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SEOUL, March 7 (Yonhap) -- South Korea reported 483 new cases of the new coronavirus on Saturday, bringing the nation's total number of infections to 6,767, with most new virus infections still in the southeastern city of Daegu, the epicenter of the virus outbreak here, and neighboring North Gyeongsang Province.
Another mass infection case came from an apartment complex in Daegu, with a third of its residents infected with the novel coronavirus.
So far, 44 people, mostly elderly patients with underlying illnesses, have died in South Korea from the respiratory virus that emerged in China late last year, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said.
The country has released 118 fully recovered novel coronavirus patients from hospitals as of Friday, up 10 from a day earlier, the KCDC added.
Of the 483 new cases, which were detected on Friday, a majority were reported in the country's southeastern region. Daegu and neighboring North Gyeongsang Province reported 390 and 65 more cases, respectively, according to the KCDC.
The total cases in the two hardest-hit regions reached 6,133, accounting for 90.6 percent of the total infections here, with some 5,000 virus patients coming from Daegu.
Other major provinces and cities have also reported some infections, with Seoul and nearby Gyeonggi Province reporting three and 10 more cases, respectively. Cases in North Chungcheong Province also increased by five.
Residents at an apartment in Daegu have been put into group isolation following mass infections at the residential complex.
The city's health authorities said 46 out of 142 residents at the apartment were confirmed to have been infected with COVID-19.
They added that 94 of the residents were found to be followers of the religious sect at the center of cluster infections in the city.
About 60 percent of the country's confirmed cases have been linked to a Daegu branch of the fringe religious sect Shincheonji.
The apartment block, which consists of two five-story buildings, is run by the city for unmarried women who are under 35 years old.
The country's health authorities said they plan to focus on potential cases among non-Shincheonji followers in Daegu, the country's fourth-largest city with a population of 2.5 million.
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.
Health authorities, however, have recently shifted their focus to testing ordinary citizens in Daegu, citing an alarming level of community spread in the city.
"With over 90 percent of Shincheonji followers tested, infections in Daegu are showing signs of stabilizing as tests of high-risks groups are mostly complete," Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip told reporters. "However, the situation is not easy as 9 to 10 percent of ordinary citizens have tested positive."
Kim said the health authorities are also putting in more efforts to contain secondary and tertiary transmissions by identifying transmission routes. Earlier in the day, the Daegu city government imposed an administrative order for Shincheonji followers to be tested.
The vice minister urged cooperation in containing the virus in areas outside of Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province, citing that the next few days are likely to be "critical."
"Nationwide infections in areas outside of special care zones have stagnated, but to make a clear judgment, the next few days will be critical," Kim said.
The number of people being checked for the virus and under quarantine came to 19,620 as of Friday, down 2,212 from the day before, the KCDC said. The country has tested a total of 171,412 suspected cases, with 151,802 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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