South Korea Sees First Virus Death as Infection Cases Surge

Oh Myoung-don a Seoul National University hospital doctor who heads a clinical committee for the novel coronavirus speaks at a press meeting in Seoul on Feb. 20 2020

One patient who died at a mental hospital in North Gyeongsang Wednesday was posthumously confirmed a coronavirus patient Thursday, officials at the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said, though it was not immediately known whether the virus led to his death. It was South Korea's first death from the virus.

An epidemiological survey is also under way to determine whether or not the 31st patient is linked to two confirmed cases at the hospital in Cheongdo, south of Daegu, the KCDC said, adding the patient visited Cheongdo earlier this month.

KCDC on Thursday announced a total of 51 new confirmed cases, taking the nationwide total to 104.

"Currently, we are investigating the possibility that the 31st patient contracted the virus via a secondary infection", Jung said.

Daegu mayor Kwon Young-jin made a nationally televised appeal for preventative measures, warning that a rush of new cases could overwhelm the health system.

At least 30 of the new Covid-19 infections were on Thursday recorded among sect members in Daegu, a city of about 2.5 million people in the south-east.

The health authorities said yesterday that a 63-year-old Korean man who had been bedridden for more than 20 years at a hospital in the south-eastern city of Cheongdo had a positive test result for the virus a day after he died of pneumonia-like symptoms. "A U.S. Army garrison in Daegu restricted travel in and out of the base and imposed a quarantine on personnel who had visited the church".

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But the 31st patient assumed she had caught a common cold and kept coming to her Daegu church because she didn't travel overseas, church officials said. KCDC officials said they were interviewing Patient No. 31 for further clues and investigating all 600 staff and patients at the hospital for possible symptoms of the new coronavirus. Jung continued it was "difficult" to believe Patient No. 31 was the one who initially transmitted the virus to other worshippers at the church because there were a few other people at the church who seemed to have contracted the virus around the same time, which means they all might been exposed to some other source of the virus and then transmitted the disease to others on February 9 and last Sunday when they attended a church service.

Daegu's municipal government said 1,001 Shincheonji members who were believed to have attended the same services as the woman had been asked to self-quarantine.

The streets of the nation's fourth-largest city have been all but abandoned, after what authorities described as a "super-spreading event" of the coronavirus at the church.

Excluding the epicentre of the outbreak in Hubei Province, however, the number of new cases in mainland China has now fallen for 15 straight days. Pastor Shin Hyun Uk, who is an anti-cult campaigner, has expressed concern that there may be more coronavirus cases linked to the Shincheonji Church, which he said frequently engages in evangelical campaigns.

Since January 3, the country has tested more than 13,000 people, among whom 11,238 tested negative for the COVID-19 virus and 1,860 were being checked.

People wear masks to prevent contracting a new coronavirus near "N Seoul Tower" in Seoul, South Korea, Feb. 19, 2020.

South Korea has a capacity to conduct 5,000 coronavirus tests a day, but the figure will be increased to 10,000 by the end of the month.

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