(ATTN: UPDATES with details from 3rd para)
SEOUL, Feb. 22 (Yonhap) -- South Korea reported 142 new cases of the new coronavirus on Saturday, the largest spike in a single day, bringing the total number of infections in the nation to 346.
The number of COVID-19 infections here has soared in the past several days, with most new infections traced to a hospital in the southeastern county of Cheongdo and a minor Christian sect in the southeastern city of Daegu.
Of the 142 new cases, 92 are related to Daenam Hospital in Cheongdo, where South Korea's first fatality occurred, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said.
A 63-year-old man, who died of pneumonia at the hospital on Wednesday, posthumously tested positive for the virus.
On Friday, another patient at Daenam Hospital died from COVID-19, the second death from the virus here.
The public health agency said 38 new cases are tied to the minor Christian sect known as Sincheonji in Daegu, about 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, and neighboring North Gyeongsang Province.
More than 100 virus patients have been traced to the church's services.
Daegu, where the 2.5 million inhabitants have been asked to stay indoors, and neighboring Cheongdo were designated as a "special management zone" on Friday. The nation's capital, Seoul, banned demonstrations in downtown areas.
The health authorities vowed to make more containment efforts as the potentially fatal illness spreads fast across the country.
Health and Welfare Minister Park Neung-hoo said Friday that the health authorities will allow hospitals to separate respiratory patients from others in an effort to prevent human-to-human transmissions at hospitals.
Health authorities will also check all pneumonia patients in Daegu hospitals, Park said.
Still, the authorities have kept the virus alert at the third-highest, or "orange," level, but the virus response will be carried out with an urgency appropriate to the "red" level.
In a sign that the virus may broadly spread nationwide, other provinces, including Jeju, Chungcheong and North Jeolla, reported cases. Gyeonggi Province also reported more new cases.
Two new virus cases were reported for the first time in Busan, the country's second-largest city with a population of 3.4 million. The city had been regarded as relatively free of the virus outbreak since the country reported the first case of COVID-19 on Jan. 20.
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