South Korea has stepped up measures to detect and contain the new coronavirus, as the number of COVID-19 patients has grown rapidly across the nation.
The country reported 100 additional cases Friday, with the total standing at 204 as of 4 p.m.
Daegu and the nearby North Gyeongsang Province took up the lion’s share of the new cases. Only a handful of areas, including Busan, Gangwon Province and Ulsan, remained virus-free.
Since a 61-year-old woman was confirmed as the 31st patient on Tuesday, Daegu has become a hotbed of virus infections.
Minister of Health and Welfare Park Neung-hu said the outbreak is still under control, as the spread of the virus has occurred with a clear reason and is centered on certain groups.
The country has entered a new phase of local transmission, but it has not reached the point where the virus is spreading in every corner of the nation simultaneously, he said.
“We don’t see that we are in a stage that the virus is spreading on a national scale, as most cases can be grouped as a cluster with traceable transmission paths,” he said.
So far, 144 people who tested positive were linked to the Sincheonji Church of Jesus -- a Christian sect to which the 31st patient belongs -- according to the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
KCDC Director Jung Eun-kyeong said the public health agency would continue tracing the source and path of transmissions in the church.
Out of 4,475 members of the church, 544 who said they had symptoms of the virus were undergoing tests.
“Given the characteristics of the space, where many people sit side by side for a one-to two-hour worship session in enclosed space, a few exposures could have caused myriad infections,” Jung said.
Seoul, North Jeolla Province and Goyang in Gyeonggi Province announced Friday they would shut down facilities of the Sincheonji Church of Jesus in their regions.
Alarmed by the rapid transmission in the country’s third-largest city, the government has designated Daegu as a special management zone.
In Daegu, patients hospitalized with pneumonia were told to undergo diagnostic tests for the novel coronavirus. They were also banned from transferring to other hospitals to prevent further person-to-person transmission.
Those with mild illnesses such as a cold were allowed to have consultation with doctors via phone for prescriptions.
Chungdo Daenam Hospital in North Gyeongsang Province has emerged as another location that generated a large cluster of infections. Fifteen people, including five nurses working at the hospital, tested positive.
As the hospital is located close to three other medical service providers -- a nursing home, nursing hospital and community medical center -- health authorities were conducting diagnostic tests on patients and employees at the four institutes, which total 556 people.
Meanwhile, a 63-year-old man who died of pneumonia Wednesday at the hospital was confirmed to be infected Thursday, marking the country’s first death of someone infected with the novel coronavirus.
A senior citizen center in Jongno Ward in central Seoul has been identified as a potential source of the spread of the virus. Four people who tested positive were found to have had meals together in late January.
Family members and those who contacted the four people also tested positive, pushing up the number of confirmed cases to nine in Jongno Ward. The center, closed since Feb. 1, has extended its shutdown indefinitely.
By Park Han-na (firstname.lastname@example.org)