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Korea tops 5,000 virus infections in 43 days since start of outbreak

Coronavirus fatality rate stands at 0.6% in S. Korea: KCDC

By Ock Hyun-ju

Published : March 3, 2020 - 16:39

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(Yonhap) (Yonhap)

South Korean authorities said Tuesday that the probability of those infected with the novel coronavirus dying is 0.6 percent here, as the government battles community spread of the deadly virus in Daegu.

The country reported 851 more cases on Tuesday, bringing the total number of infections to 5,186. The death toll has risen to 29, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To prevent further fatalities, health authorities said they will prioritize testing for “high-risk groups” -- the elderly and those with preexisting medical conditions -- and early detection in Daegu as about 75 percent of the country’s cases are from the city.

“Given the test results of Daegu citizens, we assess that community transmission had progressed more than a certain level,” Vice Health and Welfare Minister Kim Gang-lip said at a briefing Tuesday. 

Of the new cases, 519 were confirmed in Daegu (86.5 percent), 61 in North Gyeongsang Province (10 percent), seven in Seoul (1.6 percent), three in South Chungcheong Province (0.5 percent), and two each in Busan, Gwangju and Gyeonggi Province. (0.3 percent)

The change in the government’s priorities comes after it has nearly finished checking the health status of all members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, the single largest cluster here, accounting for about 56 percent of all infections.

Testing has been carried out on half of the Shincheonji members showing symptoms of the infection, of whom 2,685 people tested positive. Some 62 percent of its Daegu-based members tested positive. Outside Daegu, only 1.7 percent were found to have contracted the virus.

In the worst hit city, about 11,000 ordinary citizens underwent testing over the past week and 1,300 people were confirmed to be infected.

Daegu already suffers from a shortage of hospital beds and medical personnel. Some 1,800 people were waiting to be hospitalized as of Tuesday.

To free up more beds for the critically ill, health authorities on Monday opened state-run treatment centers for patients with no symptoms or mild symptoms. They said they will open more facilities so that some 2,000 confirmed patients can be accommodated by early next week.

More than 80 percent of the country’s cases show no severe symptoms and are expected to be fully cured, according to the government’s analysis.

A total of 29 people have died from the coronavirus as of Tuesday, with most being in their 50s or over preexisting illnesses. The fatality rate stands at 0.6 percent for all age groups, 4 percent for those in their 70s and 5.4 percent for those aged 80 or over, according to the government data.

Except confirmed patients, testing has been carried out on 121,039 people. Of those, 85,484 people have tested negative for the virus, and 35,555 are waiting for the results.

Some 34 patients have so far been released from quarantine after making full recoveries as of Monday at midnight.

Of the country’s total caseloads, 3,600 were concentrated in Daegu and 685 in North Gyeongsang Province, accounting for 89 percent of the total as of Monday midnight. Most confirmed cases were in their 20s (29.4 percent), followed by those in their 50s (19.8 percent) and those in their 40s (14.8 percent). Six in 10 cases were women.

The government views this week and next as critical for the country’s containment strategy, given the 14-day incubation period of the virus. The religious sect’s last service at its Daegu branch was held Feb. 16 before it was shut down.

Two Shincheonji followers had visited the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak, the authorities said, and a further epidemiological investigation is underway. One of them tested positive for the virus.

The government has yet to identify how the mass infections among the Shincheonji followers began.

COVID-19 is fast spreading and highly contagious, but its transmission can sufficiently be contained with the public participating in “social distancing” and enhancing personal hygiene, according to Kwon Jun-wook, a KCDC official.

Amid coronavirus fears, some 89 countries and regions are imposing travel warnings on Korea, or entry bans or toughened quarantine procedures on visitors from Korea. 

(laeticia.ock@heraldcorp.com)