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(LEAD) Mass virus infections at hospital herald more deaths

All News 13:18 February 24, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with reports of health ministry setting up 'safe' hospitals in last 2 paras)

SEOUL, Feb. 24 (Yonhap) -- South Korea reported its seventh new coronavirus-related death Monday, with five of the seven victims so far linked to a hospital in southeastern county of Cheongdo, where delayed steps may have led to mass infection.

The country has reported 763 confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Monday, and over 110 people, including nine medical staff, have been confirmed to be infected at Daenam Hospital in Cheongdo, 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul.

Medical workers prepare to transport a COVID-19 patient from Daenam Hospital in Cheongdo, 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, which has so far reported the infections of 112 patients and medical workers, on Feb. 24, 2020. (Yonhap)

The hospital began to see infection cases only last week, nearly a month after South Korea reported its first confirmed case on Jan. 20.

However, reports suggest many of the patients at the hospital began to show symptoms of COVID-19, such as fever and coughing, as early as Feb. 15.

At least one of the patients from the hospital's closed ward was said to have been taken to a different hospital for additional tests and treatment for such symptoms but was returned to the Cheongdo hospital a day before he or she was diagnosed with the novel virus.

All infected patients at the Cheongdo hospital came from a closed ward, while the total number of 112 includes nine medical staff also from that ward.

The hospital was belatedly placed under cohort isolation Saturday.

The government raised its virus alert status to the highest, or "red," level on Sunday, advising the people to stay inside and avoid crowds.

Meanwhile, the health ministry on Monday said it will set up safe or risk-free hospitals where respiratory patients will be completely blocked from facilities for people with other illnesses or medical needs.

Also, those with respiratory symptoms will be admitted to such hospitals only after they have tested negative for COVID-19, it said.

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