Outbreak South Korea, city urges 2.5M to stay home as virus cases grow

The mayor of the South Korean city of Daegu urged its 2.5 million people on Thursday to refrain from going outside as cases of a new virus spiked and he pleaded for help from the central government.

Mayor Kwon Young-jin made the request in a televised news conference after the southeastern city and its nearby towns reported 35 additional cases of infection with the new coronavirus on Thursday.

Kwon also asked Daegu citizens to wear masks even indoors if possible. He expressed fears that the rising infections in the region will soon overwhelm the city’s health infrastructure and called for urgent help from the central government in Seoul.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 28 of those 35 new patients went to church services attended by a previously confirmed virus patient. That patient is a South Korean woman in her early 60s who has no recent record of overseas travel, according to center officials.

On Wednesday, the city confirmed 13 cases and 11 of them either went to the same church with the woman patient or contacted her at a hospital, according to the disease control center.

The explosion of infections in Daegu and the neighboring southeast region, as well as some new cases in the Seoul metropolitan area where the sources of infections were unclear, have raised concern that health authorities are losing track of the virus as it spreads more broadly in the country.

“National quarantine efforts that are currently focused on blocking the inflow of the virus (from China) and stemming its spread are inadequate for preventing the illness from circulating in local communities,” Kwon said.

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South Korea has reported a total of 82 cases of COVID-19, a disease first detected in Wuhan, China, in December.

In a telephone conversation with Kwon, President Moon Jae-in said the central government will make all available assistance to help the Daegu city to fight against the virus’ further spread, according to the presidential Blue House.

New virus cases in China have again declined, up just 394, after authorities Thursday again changed how they count new daily infections. They are now discounting cases that had come back negative after laboratory tests.

Another 114 people were reported to have died from the new illness, COVID-19, as health inspectors went door-to-door to find every infected person in the worst-hit city of Wuhan.

Japan’s health ministry said two formerpassengers of a virus-stricken cruise ship have died, raising the number of deaths in Japan to three. The Diamond Princess has the most cases outside China with 621 passengers and crew testing positive.

Mainland China has reported 2,118 deaths and 74,576 total cases. While the overall spread of the virus has been slowing, the situation remains severe in Hubei province and its capital, Wuhan, where the new coronavirus was first detected in December. More than 80% of the country’s cases are in Hubei and 95% of the deaths, according to data from China’s National Health Commission.

The new daily figure is a notable drop from the 1,749 cases recorded the previous day. The NHC said 279 cases were deducted from the daily report after nucleic acid tests showed negative results.

Inspectors in protective suits went door-to-door Wednesday in Wuhan to try to find every infected person. “This must be taken seriously,” said Wang Zhonglin, the city’s newly minted Communist Party secretary.

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Cities in Hubei with a combined population of more than 60 million have been under lockdown since the Lunar New Year holiday. Authorities halted nearly all transportation and movement except for quarantine efforts, medical care, and delivery of food and basic necessities. “Wartime” measures were implemented in some places, with residents prevented from leaving their apartments.

The stringent measures have followed public fury over Hubei authorities’ handling of the outbreak when it began in December. The risk of human-to-human transmission was downplayed, and doctors who tried to warn the public were reprimanded by police. Wuhan residents reported overcrowding in hospitals and futile attempts to seek treatment.

Many countries have also set up border screenings and airlines have canceled flights to and from China to prevent further spread of the disease, which has been detected in around two dozen countries and caused more than 1,000 confirmed cases outside mainland China. Eight deaths have been confirmed outside the mainland — three in Japan, two in Hong Kong and one each in Taiwan, the Philippines and France.

Chinese scientists reported some troubling findings about how the virus spreads. Swabs were taken on 14 people who returned to Guangdong province in January after visiting Wuhan and developing the disease. High amounts of the virus were detected soon after symptoms started, more in the nose than in the throat, and the virus was also found in one of their close contacts who never showed any symptoms.