South Korea coronavirus cases jump over 200 as sect infections spike

A medical staff attends a patient with pneumonia caused by the new coronavirus at the Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University in Wuhan Hubei province China

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South Korea's coronavirus cases almost doubled Friday, rising above 200 and making it the worst-affected country outside China as the number of infections linked to a religious sect spiked.

More than half the new cases are linked to a church in the southeastern city of Daegu after a 61-year-old woman known as "Patient 31" who attended services there tested positive for the virus last week.

President Moon Jae-in is briefed by Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun on COVID-19 related issues on Friday. Yonhap didn't indicate why the man was bedridden. Meanwhile, COVID-19 has infected over 77,700 people and killed almost 2,458 people globally with 17 deaths outside mainland China. China has reported 76,936 cases and 2,442 deaths so far.

A dozen towns in Italy effectively went into lockdown after the deaths of two people infected with the virus.

So far, a total of 111 virus cases - nine hospital staff and 102 patients - have been reported from Daenam Hospital, and so-called cohort isolation, the shutdown of an entire medical institution to prevent the spread of an infectious disease, was in place for the hospital, according to the health authorities.

South Korea on Saturday reported a six-fold jump in viral infections in four days to 346, majority linked to a church and a hospital in and around the fourth-largest city where schools were closed and worshipers and others told to avoid mass gatherings.

The number of people being checked for the virus and under quarantine reached 5,481 on Saturday morning, up from 3,180 from a day earlier, the KCDC said.

Of the 53 new cases, 51 are in Daegu-which is 186 miles southeast of Seoul-and neighboring North Gyeongsang Province, according to KCDC.

Daegu, home to 2.4 million people, is South Korea's fourth-largest city.

Authorities in Seoul banned public rallies at three main locations on health and safety grounds.

Of the national total, nearly half are linked to a 61-year-old woman known as "Patient 31" who attended religious services at a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony.

The US army garrison in Daegu - where around 10,000 soldiers, civilians and family members live or work - has restricted access and instructed any American troops who recently attended Shincheonji services to self-quarantine.

"Community spread of infections began in some limited areas, and we believe that Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province are in a special situation", Vice Health and Welfare Minister Kim Kang-lip told reporters on Saturday.

Gen. Robert B. "Abe" Abrams, commander of the U.S. Forces Korea, announced measures february 19 to protect American service members and their families.

Korea's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) also reported two cases in Busan, the first in South Korea's second-largest city.

A Korean Navy sailor in his 20s on South Korea's Jeju Island also tested positive for the virus, Yonhap reported February 20, citing government officials. The sailor visited Daegu from February 13 to 18. In an emerging cluster of illnesses in northern Italy, the first to fall ill met with someone who had returned from China on January 21 without experiencing any symptoms of the new virus, health authorities said.

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