(ATTN: ADDS details in last 5 paras, new photo)
SEOUL, Feb. 21 (Yonhap) -- South Korea reported 52 new cases of the new coronavirus Friday, bringing the total number of infections in the nation to 156, with the potentially fatal illness spreading fast across the country.
The number of COVID-19 infections here has almost tripled in just three days, with most new infections traced to church services in the southeastern city of Daegu.
Of the 52 new cases, 41 are in Daegu, 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, and the neighboring North Gyeongsang Province. Another three were reported in Seoul, the Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said in a statement.
The spike of infections in Daegu and several cases in Seoul, where routes of infections are not immediately traceable, have prompted health officials to declare that COVID-19 has begun spreading locally.
The KCDC said two new cases were reported in South Gyeongsang Province. In a sign that the virus may broadly spread nationwide, six provinces, including Gyeonggi, Jeju, Chungcheong and North Jolla, each reported one case.
Of the 52 new cases, 39 are linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu, where the 31st patient, the country's probable "super spreader," attended worship services, the KCDC said.
A 61-year-old South Korean woman, who tested positive for the virus earlier this week, attended worship services at the church on Feb. 9 and this past Sunday.
KCDC Director Jung Eun-kyeong told reporters Thursday that the agency is uncertain whether the woman, known as the 31st patient, was a "super spreader" of the virus but asked 1,001 members of the church to self-isolate to stem the spread of the virus.
The government decided to designate Daegu and neighboring Cheongdo as "special management zones" following the spike in the number of infected people and the nation's first death from the virus.
The total accumulated number of confirmed cases in Daegu and its neighboring North Gyeongsang Province stood at 111, with the number of cases linked to the Daegu church coming to 82.
The number of confirmed cases at the Daenam Hospital in Cheongdo, near Daegu, stood at 16, including five nurses, the KCDC said.
On Wednesday, a South Korean man, age 63, died at the same hospital and posthumously tested positive for the flu-like virus.
The 31st patient also visited Cheongdo before testing positive for the virus, officials said.
The number of people being checked for the virus and under quarantine came to 2,707 as of early Friday, up from 1,860 a day earlier, the KCDC said.
South Korea has screened 14,816 people for COVID-19 since Jan. 3, with 11,953 testing negative and 16 patients having been discharged from quarantine after making full recoveries.
(News Focus) S. Korea on tightrope in virus fight amid slightly flattened curve
S. Korea gears up for long virus battle as infection cases top 20,000
S. Korea inches closer to toughest antivirus curbs as new cases near 6-month high
Calls grow for strongest anti-virus measures amid nationwide pandemic fears
Spiking virus cases raise the need to impose tougher virus measures nationally