(ATTN: ADDS details in last 4 paras; UPDATES figures throughout)
SEOUL, Feb. 24 (Yonhap) -- South Korean stocks started sharply lower on Monday after the number of new coronavirus cases here nearly tripled over the weekend. The Korean won also dropped sharply against the U.S. dollar.
The benchmark Korea Composite Stock Price Index (KOSPI) fell 54.14 points, or 2.50 percent, to 2,108.70 in the first as of 10:05 a.m..
As of late Sunday, South Korea confirmed more than 600 cases of COVID-19 cases, with the death toll reaching six. It marked a sharp jump from roughly 200 cases confirmed late Friday.
Most confirmed cases centered around a religious organization in the country's fourth-largest city of Daegu and a hospital in the neighboring county of Cheongdo and North Gyeongsang Province.
On Sunday, South Korea raised its alert level to the highest in its latest heightened response to the confirmation of hundreds of additional cases over the weekend.
Shares lost ground across the board.
Market bellwether Samsung Electronics shed 2.53 percent, and No. 2 chipmaker SK hynix dropped 2.91 percent. Samsung SDI lost 3.57 percent.
No. 1 carmaker Hyundai Motor dipped 2.73 percent, and its smaller sister Kia Motors decreased 3.25 percent. Auto parts maker Hyundai Mobis moved down 2.84 percent.
Pharmaceutical firms also lost ground. Samsung BioLogics surrendered 2.57 percent and Celltrion decreased 1.41 percent. Hanmi Pharmaceutical shed 3.08 percent.
The local currency was trading at 1,216.55 won against the U.S. dollar, down 7.35 won from the previous session's close.
South Korea warned it will take "necessary measures" if there is increased volatility on the currency market caused by growing off-risk sentiment stemming from the new coronavirus outbreak.
Vice Finance Minister Kim Yong-beom noted the volatility in the financial market may continue to expand for some time due to the outbreak of COVID-19.
On Friday, the Korean won also closed at 1,209.2 won against the U.S. dollar, plunging 10.5 won from the previous session's close.
The vice finance minister added the government is reviewing all available steps to help minimize the fallout of the COVID-19 outbreak.
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