Coronavirus: South Korea reports 376 new cases, total 3,526

Medical members take samples from a driver with suspected symptoms of the coronavirus, at a "drive-through" virus test facility in Goyang, north of Seoul, on Feb 29, 2020.
PHOTO: AFP

SEOUL - South Korea confirmed 376 more coronavirus cases on Sunday (Mar 1), taking the national total to 3,526 infections, the largest in the world outside China.

Nearly 90 per cent of the new cases were in Daegu, the centre of the country's outbreak, and its neighbouring North Gyeongsang province, the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement. The death toll stood at 17, unchanged from the day earlier.

The national total is expected to rise further as authorities screen more than 260,000 members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a secretive entity often accused of being a cult that is linked to around half of the country’s cases.

Of the new cases, 333 were from the southeastern city of Daegu, the location of a church at the centre of the outbreak, and 26 from the nearby province of North Gyeongsang, the KCDC said. Health authorities have urged South Koreans to refrain from attending religious services and political events and stay indoors this weekend, warning of a “critical moment” in the country’s battle against the virus.

The streets of Daegu – South Korea’s fourth-largest city with a population of 2.5 million – have been largely deserted for days, apart from long queues at the few shops with masks for sale. Authorities have urged the public to exercise caution and anyone with a fever or respiratory symptoms to stay home.

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But officials say they are not considering a citywide quarantine for the city in the manner of the lockdown imposed on the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the virus first emerged. The government has imposed a one-week extension on school breaks nationwide. In Daegu, the school break has been extended by three weeks.

The coronavirus, which first started in China's Wuhan, Hubei province, in late December, has infected almost 87,000 people worldwide and killed more than 2,900.

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