South Korea confirms first coronavirus death as infection cases surge



South Korea recorded its first confirmed death from a person infected with coronavirus and its verified cases more than tripled within a day, with the bulk of the new cases tied to a cluster from a fringe religious sect.

South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday that one person died of the virus and its domestic infection total reached 104, a troubling sign that comes as neighbour Japan posted a sharp rise in infections and recorded its second and third deaths attributed to the disease.

South Korea’s CDC didn’t provide many details on the country’s first recorded fatality but gave its location as a hospital near Daegu, one of the country’s biggest cities where a cluster of infections has been found among members of the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, formerly known as Shincheonji Church of Jesus.

The person who died from pneumonia Wednesday was confirmed to have the coronavirus, according to Yonhap News. South Korea’s CDC said it was investigating the cause of the person’s death.

The center said that it found at least 28 new cases confirmed today involved those who attended church services with a person confirmed with the virus earlier this week. The pastor told JoongAng Ilbo newspaper in an interview that some 1,000 people attended the same service.

The outbreak in Daegu, about 235 kilometers (150 miles) south of Seoul, has raised renewed concerns about the virus after a lull in reported cases last week. On Tuesday, President Moon Jae-in warned that the impact from the virus on the economy could be bigger and longer-lasting than the 2015 MERS epidemic that killed 38 people in South Korea.

“We have closed down our Daegu church as of the 18th morning and are continuing to investigate, disinfect, and take preventive measures,” the group said in a statement.

Moon pledged full support to the city in a call to Daegu Mayor Kwon Young-jin, the presidential office said. Kwon told residents in a Facebook post to “refrain from going outside” and wear a protective mask, even at home.

Daegu ‘Shutdown’

The global death toll climbed to 2,128, including 10 fatalities outside of mainland China, the epicenter of the disease.

Even before reports of the death, “shut down Daegu,” started trending on Twitter Korea, with many on social media calling on Moon’s government to isolate the city of about 2.5 million people in a way similar to the Chinese lockdown of Wuhan.

“At this stage, the government judged that COVID-19 is spreading locally with a limited scope,” Vice Health and Welfare Minister Kim Kang-lip was quoted as saying by Yonhap News.

Many in the city increased their safeguards after the surge was reported. U.S. Army Garrison Daegu said in a statement on its Facebook page that it will put in place entry restrictions that would ban visitors, including relatives, friends and those coming from overseas.

“Travel to and from Daegu is restricted for U.S. service members and highly discouraged for civilians, retirees and family members,” it said, adding the policy will be reassessed daily.

Daegu education officials ordered the closing of preschools and daycare centers, citing concerns relayed by parents of students, Kyongbuk Ilbo reported.


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