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(4th LD) S. Korea reports 4th coronavirus death as cases spike to 556

All Headlines 15:52 February 23, 2020

(ATTN: CHANGES lead; ADDS details in last 7 paras)

SEOUL, Feb. 23 (Yonhap) -- South Korea reported its fourth death from the new coronavirus on Sunday and added 123 new cases to bring the total to 556, with the potentially fatal illness being identified in many regions, including the country's 17 major provinces and cities.

Three of the four coronavirus deaths were from Daenam Hospital in the southeastern city of Cheongdo, where the country's first COVID-19 fatality took place and more than 110 people, including nine medical staff, were found to be infected.

The fourth victim of the novel virus was confirmed to be infected on Wednesday. The patient in his late 50s suffered from serious pneumonia before being infected with the novel coronavirus.

The number of COVID-19 infections more than doubled in a single day on Saturday, with most cases centered around a religious organization in the country's fourth-largest city of Daegu and the neighboring Daenam Hospital.

Streets in downtown Daegu, located around 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, are nearly empty on Feb. 23, 2020, as residents avoided going outside amid the spread of the new coronavirus in the city. (Yonhap)

Of the 123 new cases, 75 are related to worship services of the Shincheonji church in the southeastern city of Daegu, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

The number of cases that can be traced to the church services reached 309 as of Sunday morning, accounting for more than half of the total cases here.

South Korea has released 18 fully recovered novel coronavirus patients from hospitals as of Sunday morning, the KCDC said.

The number of people being checked for the virus and under quarantine came to 6,039, it added. The country has tested a total of 22,633 suspected cases, with 16,038 testing negative.

Some 90 new cases were in Daegu, which has a population of roughly 2.5 million, with 20 new virus incidents reported in the surrounding North Gyeongsang Province, it added.

Authorities said they have acquired a list of members from the Daegu-based Shincheonji church and are closely monitoring them.

The KCDC earlier said it has placed more than 9,334 Shincheonji members in self-quarantine. Of them, 1,248 have shown COVID-19-related symptoms.

From North Gyeongsang Province, 18 out of 39 Catholic pilgrims who recently made a group pilgrimage to Israel have been confirmed to be infected with the new coronavirus.

Gwangju and Jeju also reported one more case each, while the southern port city of Busan reported two more patients, in a sign that the virus may spread quickly nationwide.

The total number of cases from Busan reached seven, with four of them being linked to the Shincheonji church. More infected cases related to the church services were reported in other areas outside Daegu as well.

South Korea confirmed its first new coronavirus case from a Chinese woman from Wuhan, the epicenter of the virus outbreak, on Jan. 20.

A Catholic church located in Daegu, around 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, is closed on Feb. 23, 2020, to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus in the city. (Yonhap)

The country's 31st patient, a probable "super spreader," had attended Shincheonji's worship services in Daegu.

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.

On Friday, South Korea declared that Daegu and its adjacent county Cheongdo are "special care zones."

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, in a rare public message on Saturday night, reassured people that the virus can be contained if the public cooperates with the government's instructions.

Seven patients with underlying illnesses are in relatively critical conditions, with three of them on life support, the health authorities added.

The youngest virus patient in the country was also reported earlier in the day. The 4-year-old child attended a day care center, where a teacher was also infected with the virus.

The child is currently in a stable condition, with medical experts currently making efforts to provide necessary treatments, the KCDC said.

Two children have been infected with the novel virus so far, with the other 11-year-old child diagnosed with the disease on Wednesday.

The KCDC said South Korea is carrying out around 5,000 to 6,000 tests every day.

It also ruled out rumors that the country is short of medical supplies to treat COVID-19, including the anti-HIV medication Kaletra.

South Korea will maintain efforts to keep a stable supply of such pharmaceutical goods, it added.

The country's health authorities earlier advised local hospitals to use Kaletra or Chloroquine -- used to treat malaria -- for patients of the new coronavirus.

Ambulances are mobilized in Daegu, located some 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, on Feb. 23, 2020, to carry patients infected with the novel coronavirus. (Yonhap)

colin@yna.co.kr
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