Korea confirmed 100 more cases of the novel coronavirus on Friday to raise the total to 204, with the virus-infected patients almost tripling in the past three days, according to the health authorities.
According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it has traced most of the new patients among people, who attended the services at the Shincheonji Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony in the southeastern city of Daegu.
Of the 100 new cases, 87 are in Daegu, some 300km southeast of Seoul, where the Shincheonji Church service took place, and the surrounding North Gyeongsang Province. The accumulated total of confirmed cases in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province rose to 153, with the number of cases linked to the Shincheonji Church alone standing at 144.
The nation also saw the infection spreading to medical personnel by confirming the first infected nurse, who works at Daegu Catholic University Medical Center and is a Shincheonji Church member, on Thursday. On Friday, five more nurses out of the 16 total confirmed COVID-19 patients at the Daenam Hospital in Cheongdo, near Daegu, have also tested positive for the virus.
All 16 patients are known to have worked or been hospitalized at the hospital's closed psychiatric ward.
The hospital is where the first victim, a 63-year-old male patient, died of pneumonia on Wednesday after being hospitalized for more than 20 years at the psychiatric ward of the hospital.
Health officials shut down the hospital and are conducting a full inspection of medical workers and patients there.
The hospital aggravated the situation by holding a funeral for Shincheonji Church founder Lee Man-hee's older brother in early February, which was reportedly attended by 40 Shincheonji Church members.
With the rising number of patients in the region, the government decided to designate Daegu and neighboring Cheongdo as "special management zones." It also confirmed the first victim died because of the new coronavirus, given he died of pneumonia and had no underlying diseases except for paranoia.
"At this stage, the government judges that COVID-19 is spreading locally with a limited scope," Vice Health and Welfare Minister Kim Kang-lip said. "We are readjusting our quarantine and prevention work toward focusing on local transmission."
The government also plans to deploy 24 more doctors to Daegu and expand the number of virus-detection centers to 22 in the city, Kim added.
The health authorities also plan to conduct a comprehensive survey of 9,000 Shincheonji Church members to gather information on their overseas travel and visits to medical institutions. The agency has secured the first list of 4,474 people and tried to secure the rest of the list on Friday.
The first 4,474 members will be put on self-isolation, and the government will check their symptoms through local government and church officials.
A COVID-19 inspection will also be conducted for Shincheonji Church members living in Daegu. For this purpose, the government has additionally designated Kyungpook National University Hospital, Gyeongbuk National University Chilgok Hospital, Yeungnam University Medical Center, and Keimyung University Dongsan Medical Center as diagnostic testing institutions.
Vice Minister Kim said that the government would keep its virus alert level at "orange," the third-highest level.
Meanwhile, the nation's military was also put on high alert after three military servicemen -- one each in the Army, the Navy, and the Air Force -- were confirmed with the virus. All three patients are known to have visited Daegu recently.
As part of efforts to mitigate transmission among service personnel, the Defense Ministry has decided to prohibit enlistees from vacationing and staying outside their bass to meet visitors from Saturday.
As of 5 p.m. Friday, the number of people checked for the virus and under quarantine reached 3,180. The nation has screened 16,196 people for COVID-19 since Jan. 3, with 13,016 testing negative and 16 discharged from hospital fully recovered. Aside from the one dead patient, 187 are receiving treatments in isolatation.
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