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Spike in coronavirus cases in South Korea as it becomes second worst-affected country after China

The overall figure in the country is 156.

A worker wearing protective gears sprays disinfectant as a precaution against the coronavirus at a subway station in Seoul.
A worker wearing protective gears sprays disinfectant as a precaution against the coronavirus at a subway station in Seoul.
Image: Ahn Young-joon/AP/Press Association Images

SOUTH KOREA CONFIRMED 52 more cases of coronavirus today, making it the worst-affected country outside China.

Thirty-nine of the new cases were connected to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the southern city of , the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said, taking the country’s overall figure to 156.

More than 80 members of Shincheonji have now been infected, starting with a 61-year-old woman who developed a fever on 10 February but attended at least four church services before being diagnosed.

The mayor of Daegu - South Korea’s fourth-biggest city, with a population of over 2.5 million – has advised locals to stay indoors, while access to a major US military base in the area has been restricted.

The streets remained active with most people wearing masks, but many businesses were closed due to the outbreak.

Workers on motorcycles sprayed disinfectant outside the Shincheonji church in the city, where passer-by Seo Dong-min, 24, told AFP: “With so many confirmed cases here I’m worried that Daegu will become the second Wuhan.”

The Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said one more virus case had been confirmed at a hospital in Cheongdo county near Daegu where a total of 16 infections have now been identified, including a long-stay patient who died on Wednesday after showing symptoms of pneumonia.

Cheongdo is the birthplace of Shincheonji’s founder Lee, and county officials said a three-day funeral was held for his brother three weeks ago at a hall owned by the hospital.

President Moon Jae-in called for a “thorough investigation” of everyone who attended the funeral and Shincheonji services. 

“If you simply rely on the information provided by the church, the process can be slow,” he told a cabinet meeting.

“We need faster measures.”

The central government today declared Daegu and Cheongdo “special management zones”.

south-korea-virus-outbreak Passengers wearing face masks ride a subway train in Daegu. Source: Kim Hyun-tae/AP/Press Association Images

Seoul will support the region with medical personnel, beds and equipment, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said, and the cabinet will meet three times a week to discuss the outbreak.

The US army base in Daegu – where around 10,000 soldiers, civilians and family members live or work – has restricted access and instructed any American troops who recently attended Shincheonji services to self-quarantine.

“Travel in and around Daegu is highly discouraged unless absolutely necessary,” the base said in a Facebook post. 

“Please avoid public places and public transportation, to include stores, restaurants, subways and other heavily congested areas.”

Shincheonji has closed all its facilities nationwide.

“We are deeply sorry that because of one of our members, who thought of her condition as a cold because she had not travelled abroad, led to many in our church being infected and thereby caused concern to the local community,” it said in a statement.

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UK

Dozens of UK citizens who have been trapped on a coronavirus-hit cruise ship in Japan are set to fly home today after the UK government sent a plane to repatriate them.

Around 70 people who have been held in quarantine on the Diamond Princess are due to land at Boscombe Down Ministry of Defence base near Salisbury, Wiltshire, in the early hours of Saturday morning.

Two Irish citizens, a couple with dual citizenship, have been diagonosed with coronavirus. They were were both on the Diamond Princess cruise ship. 

 With reporting from Press Association

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