Korea confirmed 229 new cases of the novel coronavirus, marking the steepest spike in a day to push up the total number of infections to 433, as of 4 p.m. Saturday.
Of the 229 new cases, 200 were confirmed in North Gyeongsang Province, and 38 of them had connections to the Shincheonji Church, a new Christian sect. Among the 433, 231 patients have a connection to the church, more than half of the total. Besides, 111 infections occurred at the Daenam Hospital in Cheongdo, North Gyeongsang Province, where the first fatality also occurred.
Three have died so far of new coronavirus and two more are in a critical condition and has to use a respirator. The government said that there are eight more patients whose condition is severe, but not deadly. A respirator is needed to treat patients who cannot breathe by themselves.
The immediate response team is currently conducting an epidemiological investigation in Daegu and Gyeongsang Province. The government is also checking on 9,336 Shincheonji Church members' symptoms.
Of them, 1,261 responded that they show symptoms.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention requested Shincheonji Church members who attended the church service in Daegu to put themselves in self-quarantine and call 1339 immediately if they experience symptoms of the coronavirus.
The second victim of COVID-19 was a 54-year-old Korean woman, who was hospitalized at Daenam Hospital. According to the government, she also showed a high fever and pneumonia symptoms.
The nation also saw its first group infection of medical providers at the hospital, where nine medical workers and 102 hospitalized patients have been confirmed. Most of the 102 patients were at the hospital's psychiatric ward, and the government transported those who developed pneumonia symptoms to receive treatment in quarantine.
Korea is entering into the early phase of nationwide spread of the virus, as seen in the outbreaks in 17 provinces and large cities, including Jeju, Chungcheong and Jeolla provinces as well as Busan and Sejong.
However the health authorities said they would maintain the virus alert at the “orange” level, the third-highest, but carry out the virus response with an urgency of the “red” level, the second-highest. The government has designated Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province as the “special management zone”
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun called off an emergency meeting to inspect prevention measures in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province as the confirmed cases increased explosively on Saturday. Many more patients can appear in Daegu as a large number of Shincheonji Church members reportedly said that they showed COVID-19 symptoms.
Chung issued a statement later in the day, asking people not to be overly scared of the virus, saying it is very contagious but symptoms are relatively right and can be completely cured if reported and treated early. He also called for the people to refrain from holding events that gather many people in a crowded environment.
Meanwhile, the Shincheongji Church said it would issue an official statement regarding its alleged “superspreading” on Monday.
"We are going to hold a news conference on Monday in Seoul to reveal our situation and position officially," a church spokesperson said, adding that some of the news stories are were skewed.
The number of people being checked for the virus and under quarantine reached 5,481 on Saturday morning, up from 3,180 from a day earlier, the KCDC said. The nation has tested 19,621 suspected cases with 13,794 testing negative. Eighteen patients have been released from hospitals fully recovered.
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