Patient numbers exceed 1,200, fatalities reach 12

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Patient numbers exceed 1,200, fatalities reach 12

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Quarantine officials, wearing protective gear, from the Geumjeong District Office in Busan disinfect the building at Pusan National University where an adjunct professor was confirmed infected with the coronavirus on Wednesday. [YONHAP]

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Korea’s coronavirus cases spiked to 1,261 Wednesday afternoon, up 284 from the day before and the first breach of the thousand mark.

One more death was reported in Daegu, bringing total fatalities to 12.

Among the latest group of infected people was an American soldier stationed at Camp Carroll in Chilgok County, North Gyeongsang, the first U.S. service member to have tested positive for the virus.

How he contracted it remains unclear.

The U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) said in a statement Wednesday morning that the patient, a 23-year-old male, is currently in self-quarantine at his off-base residence. He was said to have visited Camp Walker in nearby Daegu Monday, according to the USFK.

“KCDC [Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] and USFK health professionals are actively conducting contact tracing to determine whether any others may have been exposed,” the USFK said in a statement.

Infections in Korea have been heavily concentrated in the southeastern Daegu and North Gyeongsang areas, mostly traced to a church in Daegu of the Shincheonji Christian sect and Daenam Hospital in Cheongdo County, North Gyeongsang.

Whether both outbreaks are related to each other is still a mystery, though the brother of Shincheonji leader Lee Man-hee was hospitalized at Daenam for five days late last month before he died. His funeral was held there, too, and Shincheonji adherents are known to have visited.

By Wednesday 4 p.m., 24 out of 1,261 coronavirus patients in Korea had been discharged from hospitals after full recoveries, two on Wednesday alone, while the rest were mostly in stable condition.

The KCDC said earlier Wednesday afternoon that 18 were in critical condition.

The latest patient in Korea to have died of the coronavirus was a 73-year-old male Shincheonji adherent in Daegu, the KCDC said. Health officials said the patient was hospitalized at Daegu Medical Center last Thursday and transferred to Keimyung University Dongsan Medical Center in Daegu on Sunday after his symptoms worsened. He died on Wednesday morning at around 1 a.m.

On Wednesday alone, at least 18 people in Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi were reported by the KCDC to be diagnosed with the coronavirus. Total infections for the three zones are now at least 103.

In Seoul and Gyeonggi, many patients were found to either be Shincheonji believers, have visited heavily affected areas like Daegu and North Gyeongsang or had contact with other patients.

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A worker disinfects the interior of Myeongdong Cathedral in central Seoul on Wednesday. The Catholic Archdiocese of Seoul announced that all 232 of its churches in Seoul will cancel masses from Feb. 26 until March 10, the first cancellation of masses in 189 years, to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. [YONHAP]

In Eunpyeong District, northern Seoul, at least seven infections have been traced to the Catholic University of Korea Eunpyeong St. Mary’s Hospital, including three patients, two of their family members, a caregiver and a hospital worker. The hospital said Wednesday it would run a coronavirus test on about 500 hospitalized patients and 2,300 medical staff, caregivers, patients’ relatives and janitors.

The first patient linked to the hospital was a 35-year-old man in charge of transferring patients to the hospital, who said he had a high fever and cough from Feb. 2. Until he tested positive for the virus last Friday, he was in contact with at least 302 people, including hospital patients, staff workers and his family.

A 62-year-old patient at the hospital tested positive for the virus last Saturday, and the hospital subsequently closed its emergency rooms and stopped receiving outpatients.

In Songpa District, southern Seoul, a 24-year-old Korean Air flight attendant tested positive for the virus Tuesday after returning from a trip to Tel Aviv and Los Angeles.

It was not immediately known whether she was on the same flight as the Korean group of Catholics from North Gyeongsang who recently tested positive after returning from a pilgrimage to Israel, but Yonhap cited an unnamed Korean Air source as saying she was.

Precisely how she contracted the disease is not known, and all other Korean Air flight attendants who were on the same plane have been placed under house quarantine for 14 days, the incubation period of the coronavirus, the air carrier said.

In Incheon, a 58-year-old Korean tour guide catering to Chinese tourists tested positive for the coronavirus Tuesday nearly a month after he started feeling symptoms, said the city’s metropolitan government office.

The Incheon office said in a statement that the patient guided a tour group of Chinese, Taiwanese and Hong Kong travelers in Seoul from Jan. 23 to 26 and began experiencing what he thought were symptoms of the virus on Jan. 31.

He visited a nearby hospital on Feb. 13, but test results turned out negative.

The symptoms continued, and he went to the same Incheon Sarang Hospital on Sunday morning, and test results were positive Tuesday afternoon. How he contracted the disease is not known. He apparently hadn’t visited Daegu or China and wasn’t a Shincheonji believer.

The Korean government announced Wednesday it received a list of 212,000 Shincheonji followers from the religious group Tuesday and that each would be checked for symptoms of the coronavirus. Those who report symptoms will be tested.

Asked by reporters why the list is shorter than the 245,000 figure previously mentioned by Shincheonji’s spokesman, the government said it was told by the sect that the rest were living abroad.

In a YouTube video Sunday urging the public not to discriminate against Shincheonji worshippers, the religion’s spokesman Kim Simon said Shincheonji had 245,000 followers.

The government also said Wednesday that all day care centers nationwide will be forced to close from today until March 8 to prevent the spread of the virus.

At Myeongdong Cathedral in central Seoul, all masses and meetings will be suspended through March 10, though its main hall will remain open for visitors from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., the Catholic Archdiocese of Seoul said in a statement Wednesday.

The Catholic Archdiocese of Seoul has 232 churches (including Myeongdong Cathedral) under its jurisdiction, attended by some 1.52 million churchgoers combined. All other 231 churches will follow the same suspension measures as Myeongdong.

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea later announced similar plans for all other nationwide churches as well. It’s the first time in the Catholic church’s 189-year history in Korea that masses have been suspended.

Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said the temporary ban on political rallies will be extended to include areas surrounding Seoul Station and the Blue House, both in central Seoul.

Last Friday, Park announced the city government was imposing a ban on rallies at Gwanghwamun Square, Cheonggye Plaza and Seoul Plaza, all three in central Seoul.

The Seoul police force warned of “stern countermeasures” against a coalition of anti-Moon Jae-in rally organizers who said they were planning a massive rally this Saturday at Gwanghwamun Square.

On Tuesday, Rev. Jun Kwang-hoon, who has led the protests, backed down from his initial stance to hold the Saturday rally after he was detained for violating election laws, saying he was “consulting with experts” whether to follow through with the Saturday rally plan.

BY LEE SUNG-EUN, KIM MIN-WOOK AND KWAK JAE-MIN [lee.sungeun@joongang.co.kr]

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