(ATTN: ADDS official's remarks, details in paras 11-16; EDITS first three paras, headline)
SEOUL, March 6 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's coronavirus caseload approached 6,300 on Friday, with most new virus infections still occurring in the southeastern city of Daegu, the epicenter of the virus outbreak here, and neighboring North Gyeongsang Province. Another alarming cluster of infections was reported in a small city near Daegu.
The 518 additional cases, which were detected on Thursday, brought the nation's total number of infections to 6,284, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). Thursday's additional cases followed the 438 new cases detected on Wednesday, 516 new cases on Tuesday and 600 on Monday.
So far, 42 people, mostly elderly patients with underlying illnesses, have died in South Korea from the respiratory virus that emerged in China late last year, the KCDC said. One more fatality, an 80-year-old man with diabetes, was reported in Daegu, but that was not included in an official update.
About 60 percent of confirmed cases have been linked to a branch of the Shincheonji religious sect in Daegu, the country's fourth-largest city with a population of 2.5 million.
However, health authorities have shifted their focus to testing ordinary citizens in Daegu, citing an alarming level of community spread in the city.
Of the 518 new cases, which were detected on Thursday, 367 are in Daegu and 123 in North Gyeongsang, the KCDC said.
The total confirmed cases in Daegu and North Gyeongsang stood at 4,693 and 984, respectively.
Other major provinces and cities have also reported infections, with Seoul seeing two additional cases, bringing its total to 105. Busan's caseload rose by three to 95. New cases were also reported in several provinces, including Daejeon, Gangwon and South Chungcheong.
Gyeonggi Province saw its confirmed cases rise by 10 to 120. Three patients and five medical staff at Bundang Jaesaeng General Hospital, south of Seoul, tested positive for the virus after they came into contact with a 77-year-old cancer patient who was admitted to the hospital last Saturday and tested positive for the virus on Thursday.
Since raising the virus alert level to "red," the highest level, on Feb. 23, health authorities have focused on halting the spread of the virus in Daegu and North Gyeongsang.
Another alarming cluster of infections was reported in the southeastern city of Gyeongsan, which is adjacent to both Daegu and its neighboring Cheongdo County.
Of the 123 new cases detected on Thursday in North Gyeongsang Province -- which surrounds Daegu, Cheongdo and Gyeongsan -- 56 cases came from Gyeongsan, including 46 cases at a nursing home in Bonghwa County, Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip told reporters.
Health authorities are "closely watching the situation in Gyeongsan," Kim said.
On Thursday, the government designated Gyeongsan as the nation's third "special care zone" over virus infections. Along with Daegu, Cheongdo, where a total of 116 infections have been identified so far, was designated as such a zone on Feb. 21. The central government provides more medical resources and staff to these zones.
Gyeongsan in North Gyeongsang has reported a total of 282 confirmed cases, with more than 60 percent of cases being related to Shincheonji followers.
A total of 765 virus patients with mild or moderate symptoms in Daegu have been admitted to isolation facilities, Kim said, adding that more than 800 patients will be admitted to such facilities next week.
South Korea had released 108 fully recovered novel coronavirus patients from hospitals as of Thursday, up 20 from a day earlier, the KCDC said.
The number of people being checked for the virus and under quarantine came to 21,832 as of Thursday, up 22 from the day before, it said. The country has tested a total of 158,456 suspected cases, with 136,624 testing negative.
Currently, there is no evidence that the new coronavirus is airborne. The World Health Organization said the virus is transmitted through droplets or close contact. The best measures to protect yourself from the virus are to wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds and avoid mass gatherings, health officials said.
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