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(LEAD) Cluster outbreak at hospital stokes concerns of more virus deaths coming

National 21:52 February 23, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with death toll; TRIMS)

SEOUL, Feb. 23 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's public health authorities were on heightened alert on Sunday as four of the country's deaths from the new coronavirus have been linked to a hospital in the southeastern city of Cheongdo.

The country's fourth and sixth coronavirus deaths were reported on Sunday from Daenam Hospital in Cheongdo, located around 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, where the authorities imposed so-called cohort isolation, a special quarantine measure to take care of patients with the same disease in a group.

Having confirmed the country's first COVID-19 case on Jan. 20, South Korea has focused on curbing the spread of the virus. And it's now confronted with another urgent task of combating fatalities.

This picture, taken on Feb. 20, 2020, shows Daenam Hospital in Cheongdo, 320 kilometers southeast of Seoul. The hospital has been placed under cohort isolation, with patients and staff placed in quarantine, after more than 110 people, including nine medical staff, tested positive for the novel coronavirus. (Yonhap)

The hospital reported a cluster outbreak of the potentially fatal illness, with more than 110 people, including nine medical staff, found to be infected with the novel coronavirus.

Among the six deaths reported in South Korea in connection with the epidemic, four were patients at the hospital, all of whom were in their 50s or 60s.

Health authorities said the exact causes of their deaths are being investigated, with pneumonia presumed to be the culprit.

The nation's health authorities are concerned that more virus cases will be identified at the hospital as most patients have underlying illnesses.

Transmissions taking place in hospitals and clinics are alsoo of grave concern because of the risk of exposing sick people, who are more vulnerable to infections, to the virus.

Over the past few days, South Korea announced hundreds of additional COVID-19 cases centered in Daegu, a three-hour drive southeast of Seoul, and the nearby town of Cheondo.

Most of the cases are tied to members of a minor Christian sect, known as Sincheonji, and people whom they have contacted. A so-called super spreader recently attended hourslong collective worship services at a Daegu church.

Medical workers transfer a suspected coronavirus patient from Daenam Hospital in Cheongdo, 320 kilometers southeast of Seoul, to another hospital on Feb. 21, 2020. (Yonhap)

lcd@yna.co.kr
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