Coronavirus outbreak: Swell in cases reported outside China, South Korea on highest alert


Ambulances transporting confirmed coronavirus patients at a hospital in Daegu, South Korea, on February 23. (Reuters)

New cases of novel coronavirus outside of China continue to worry world health authorities, with South Korea on Sunday raising its infectious disease alert to the highest level after the number of cases in the country jumped to 602 and the death toll rose to five.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said that the government had raised the country’s disease alert by one notch to the fourth and highest level in a bid to contain a surge in new cases.

The last time South Korea raised the alert to the highest was 11 years ago during the Influenza A or H1N1 outbreak.

Meanwhile, the US State Department raised its travel advisory level for South Korea from 1 to 2, the second of four ratings, urging travellers to avoid contact with sick people.

Workers wearing protective gear spray disinfectant as a precaution against the COVID-19 at a local market in Daegu, South Korea on February 23. (AP)

A Church and ‘Patient 31’

Out of the 600 new cases reported in South Korea, more than 300 have been linked to the ‘Shincheonji Church of Jesus congregation’ in the South Korean city of Daegu.

According to news agency Reuters, the new cases are linked to a 61-year-old woman known as “Patient 31”, who attended services there and was tested positive for the virus last week. However, she had no recent record of overseas travel.

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Kim Simon, a spokesman from the Shincheonji Church, through a video said that the church would make all-out efforts to curb the virus’ spread and closely cooperate with health authorities.

A branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony is pictured in Daegu, South Korea. (Reuters)

According to the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 9,300 Shincheonji members have either been quarantined or asked to stay at home by authorities. Several Catholic churches across the country have also suspended mass and other gatherings.

The country now has the most infections outside of China apart from the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Japan, which has seen more than 600 cases.

A general view shows busses parking in front of the cruise ship Diamond Princess, at Daikoku Pier Cruise Terminal in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, on February 20. (Reuters)

4 more Indians infected on cruise ship

Four Indian crew members onboard Diamond Princess, the cruise ship moored off the coast of Japan, have tested positive for COVID-19, the Indian Embassy said on Sunday. The total number of Indians infected with coronavirus on the vessel has now gone up to 12.

“Unfortunately results received as of 1200 JST (Japan Standard Time) include 4 Indian crew members having tested positive,” the Indian Embassy said in a tweet. It added that all 12 Indians are responding well to treatment.

Members of the media work in front of the coronavirus-hit cruise ship Diamond Princess in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, Japan February 22, 2020. (Reuters)

There are 138 Indians, including 132 crew and 6 passengers among the 3,711 people on board the ship when it docked at the Yokohama port, near Tokyo, on February 3. It was quarantined after a passenger who disembarked in Tokyo last month was found to be the carrier of the infection.

Passengers who showed no signs of the disease were allowed to disembark from the ship after the quarantine period ended last week.

Death toll continues to rise in China

In China, the death toll due to the novel coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, continues to rise, with 97 deaths reported on Sunday, taking the total figure to 2,442. The number of confirmed cases rose to 76,936, officials said on Sunday.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) on Saturday stressed that the number of cases outside of China was still relatively few, but it was worried by the detection of infections without a clear link to China. The disease has spread to some 26 countries and territories outside China, killing more than a dozen people, news agency Reuters reported.

Jump in cases in Italy, Iran

As many as 89 cases were reported in Italy’s northern Lombardy region on Sunday, bringing the total number of cases in the country to more than 100. Most of those cases have popped up in small towns in the countryside.

People wearing sanitary masks walk past the Duomo gothic cathedral in Milan, Italy, Sunday, Feb. 23, 2020. (AP)

According to Reuters, the newly discovered cases have prompted authorities in some towns to close schools, businesses and restaurants, and to cancel sporting events and Masses. Bishops in several dioceses in northern Italy issued directives that holy water fonts be kept empty. The country has so far reported two deaths due to coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the health ministry of Iran announced the death toll from the new virus had gone up to 8 in the country, amid concerns that clusters there, as well as in Italy and South Korea, could signal a serious new stage in its global spread.

According to Reuters, there are now 43 confirmed cases of the illness in Iran.

(Inputs from agencies)

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