SKorea: Need Powerful Steps for Virus 02/23 09:44
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) -- South Korea's president said Sunday that he was
putting his country on its highest alert for infectious diseases and ordered
officials to take "unprecedented, powerful" steps to fight a soaring viral
outbreak that has infected more than 600 people in the country, mostly in the
last few days.
China also reported hundreds of more infections for a total of about 77,000,
and Iran raised its death toll from the virus to eight __ the highest toll
outside of China. While the number of patients worldwide is increasing, some
virus clusters have shown no link to China and experts are struggling to trace
where those clusters started.
The Iranian health ministry said there were now 43 confirmed cases in Iran,
which did not report its first case of the virus until Wednesday.
In Italy's northern Lombardy region, which includes the nation's financial
capital, Milan, the governor announced Sunday that the number of confirmed
cases in the region stood at 89. Italy now has 132 cases, including two deaths.
Venice, which is full of tourists for Carnival events, reported its first
two cases, said Veneto Gov. Luca Zaia, whose region includes the lagoon city.
It wasn't immediately known if the two infected had participated in Carnival
Warning that China's virus epidemic is "still grim and complex," President
Xi Jinping called for more efforts to stop the outbreak, revive industry and
prevent the disease from disrupting spring planting of crops.
Xi defended the ruling Communist Party's response as "timely and effective"
in a video conference with officials in charge of anti-disease work, according
to the official Xinhua News Agency.
"The current epidemic situation is still grim and complex," Xinhua cited Xi
as saying. "Prevention and control are at the most critical stage."
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said his government had decided to
increase its anti-virus alert level by one notch to "Red," the highest level.
The step was last taken in 2009 to guard against a novel influenza outbreak
that killed more than 260 people in South Korea. Under the highest alert level,
authorities can order the temporary closure of schools and reduce the operation
of public transportation and flights to and from South Korea.
Moon's education minister, Yoo Eun-hae, said later Sunday that the new
school year for kindergartens, elementary, middle and high schools in South
Korea has been put off by one week and will start on March 9.
Moon said that the outbreak "has reached a crucial watershed," and that the
next few days will be "critical." "We shouldn't be bound by regulations and
hesitate to take unprecedented, powerful measures," he said.
South Korea announced 169 more cases of the new virus, bringing the
country's total to 602. The country also reported three more fatalities,
raising its death toll to six.
Mainland China reported 648 new infections for a total of 76,936. The daily
death toll fell slightly to 97. In all, 2,442 people have died in the country
from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
The number of new Chinese cases has seesawed daily but has remained under
1,000 for the past four days. Several changes to how the infections are
counted, however, have made it difficult to draw conclusions from the figures.
The central Chinese city of Wuhan and other parts of Hubei province, where
the outbreak first emerged in December, remain under lockdown. More than 80% of
the country's cases are in Hubei, where the death toll has also been higher
than in the rest of the nation.
Most of the South Korean cases have been reported in the country's
fourth-largest city, Daegu, and the surrounding area. According to the Korea
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, some 320 cases have also been
confirmed to have links to a branch of the local Shincheonji church in Daegu,
which has become the biggest cluster of viral infections in South Korea.
Shincheonji, which has been viewed as a cult movement by mainstream
Christian organizations, tried to defend itself from growing public anger
directed at the church.
In a video statement posted on its website, church spokesman Simon Kim said
Shincheonji has shut down all its 1,100 local churches and other facilities
since one of its church members tested positive for the virus on Feb. 18, the
first patient in Daegu.
Earlier Sunday, Daegu Mayor Kwon Yong-jin said there were concerns that the
number of those infected in the city could see yet another massive increase
because authorities were launching intensive examinations of church members
with virus-related symptoms.
China's Politburo, made up of senior officials of the ruling Communist
Party, cautioned Friday that while the epidemic has been "preliminarily
contained," the country has yet to see a turning point.
Officials signaled that regular activities should gradually resume after the
virus prompted an extension of last month's Lunar New Year holiday. Many
workplaces have opted to have their employees work remotely, and schools are
conducting online classes.
In Beijing, most residential communities have implemented "closed
management," limiting the number of people per household who can go in and out
using exit-entry cards and requiring those just returning to the Chinese
capital to isolate themselves at home for 14 days.
A cluster of infections was reported out of Beijing's Fuxing Hospital. The
facility, which has 34 confirmed cases, has been closed off to protect the
surrounding community, said a statement from Xicheng district authorities.
More than 500 cases also have been found in prisons across the country.
A cruise ship passenger who had been hospitalized after testing positive for
the new virus died on Sunday, the third fatality from the Diamond Princess,
Japan's health ministry said.
The ministry also announced 57 more cases of infections from the ship,
including 55 crew members still on board and two passengers who had infected
roommates and are in a prolonged quarantine at a government facility.
With the new cases, 691 people have been infected on the ship, or nearly
one-fifth of the ship's original population of 3,711. Japan has confirmed a
total of 838 cases and four deaths from the virus, which first emerged in
China, including those on the ship.
Meanwhile, a diplomatic row erupted after Israel turned back a South Korean
airliner, underscoring fear and tensions over the fast-spreading outbreak.
A Korean Air flight with 188 passengers that landed at Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion
airport Saturday evening was taxied away from the allotted terminal while
authorities allowed only 11 Israelis to enter the country. The plane returned
to South Korea with the rest of the passengers on Sunday, according to airline
Seoul's Foreign Ministry said Sunday that it was closely monitoring the
incident and providing active consular assistance to South Koreans staying in
Israel. It said it will evacuate South Korean tourists from Israel if
Yonhap news agency cited South Korea's Foreign Ministry as registering a
strong protest with the Israeli government. The ministry told Israel that no
excessive, unreasonable measures should be taken against South Korean
nationals, according to the report.
South Korea earlier informed Israel that a group of tourists who traveled to
Israel and the West Bank for a week this month tested positive for the virus
upon returning home. Israeli and Palestinian health authorities asked people
who were in close contact with the tourists to quarantine themselves.
South Korean health authorities said Sunday that 18 of the 39 South Koreans
from the southeastern region who had made a group pilgrimage to sites in Israel
later tested positive for the virus. She said the 21 others were being tested.
Forty-one Catholic churches in their neighborhoods halted Sunday Masses and
Israel's Foreign Ministry issued added travel warnings to South Korea and
Japan due to the coronavirus, and the Health Ministry is ordering Israelis
returning from those countries to remain in home quarantine, as previously
ordered for those returning from Hong Kong, China, Macau, Thailand and
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be adding more restrictions
on entry to Israel from additional countries, including Australia and Italy.
Jordan said it was denying entry of non-Jordanians coming from Iran and
South Korea, on top of a previous ban on those coming from China. Nationals
arriving from those countries will be quarantined.
Downtown Daegu was mostly deserted Sunday, with shelves at some supermarkets
and stores empty. Many restaurants, bars, real-estate offices and tour agencies
shut down as traffic nosedived and people stayed home, ordering food and
Kim Mi-yeon, who opened her cake shop in Daegu on Sunday despite worries
about infection, said she received only one group of customers.
"I'm also worried about being infected, but I still opened my shop today to
make a living," she said by phone. "On weekends, I used to hire five part-time
employees, but I've recently told all of them not to come. How can I hire them
at a time when I have fewer then 10 customers a day?"