- South Korea cases of Coronavirus top 346, leading the count for infected outside of the U.S.
- Coronavirus Cases Worldwide: 77,984
- Deaths: 2362
- Recovere: 21,318
The hotbed of infection is said to have originated from a secretive Christian church in South Korea, called the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the city of Daegu in the southeast of South Korea. The woman initally diagnosed with the virus attended services there, where well over 1000 people were in attendance.
The number of possible infected will most likely rise as the churchgoers undergo testing.
South Korea said two people have died and 204 have been infected with the virus, quadruple the number of cases it had two days earlier. Schools were shuttered Friday, churches told worshipers to stay away and some mass gatherings were banned.
The multiplying caseload in South Korea showed the ease with which the illness can spread. Initial infections were linked to China, but new cases in South Korea and Iran — where there have been four deaths — don’t show a clear connection to travel there. In an emerging cluster of illnesses in northern Italy, the first to fall ill met with someone who had returned from China on Jan. 21 without experiencing any symptoms of the new virus, health authorities said.
The World Health Organization warned that clusters not directly linked to travel, such as the ones in South Korea and Iran, suggest that time may be running out to contain the outbreak.
From NPR.org: (Note infection numbers are a bit off in the interview due to the date of the interview). Numbers above are accurate.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
More than 200 people are now infected with coronavirus in South Korea according to officials there, and at least two people there have died. That makes it the country with the second highest number of infected people after China. And a significant number of infections can be found among the congregation of one secretive South Korean church. NPR’s Anthony Kuhn is following the outbreak from Seoul. He joins us now.
Anthony, first, tell us more about the virus in South Korea and where this concentration of cases is.
ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Hi, Audie. Well, the numbers have doubled for two straight days, and it’s really taken people by surprise. And one reason for that is that they thought that they had managed to keep the virus out of the country. And then suddenly, it pops up in the country’s heartland, in the fourth largest city called Daegu, about 150 miles southeast of the country. And as you said, most of the cases are related to this rather secretive church called the Shincheonji Church of Jesus. Its followers believe the founder is the Messiah. They have these large church services where people are at close quarters. And another thing that distinguishes them is that they spend a lot of time out on the streets proselytizing, which people believe may present a lot of opportunities for the virus to spread.
Now authorities are tracking down all the members of this church group, and 500 of them have reported that they have symptoms of the coronavirus. So there’s a lot of room for the numbers to grow.
CORNISH: Five-hundred – do health officials know how the illness got to South Korea?
KUHN: Well, the earlier cases had pretty clear links to China. The recent ones do not. And that worries them when they don’t know where it comes from. The government is saying that there’s a transition going on. There’s a shift from keeping the virus out of the country to working at the community level to prevent local transmission. So that’s going to have a bigger impact on people’s lives. It’s going to mean a lot more people staying off the streets and a lot less commercial activity.
CORNISH: Can you tell us more about how the government is responding? I mean, especially, as you described, this group is secretive, right?
KUHN: Yes. Well, this church group has many congregations around the country and branches overseas. So in South Korea, they’ve been shut down, and they’re trying to track down all the members. You know, South Korea is an affluent economy. It has an excellent public health care system. But the system in Daegu is strained. They’re running short of hospital beds and doctors and equipment and supplies. So the government has designated it a special zone, and they’re trying to get extra equipment there. There are infections in the military, and so conscription in that area has ended. They’re restricting the movement of soldiers. And there’s also a U.S. military base in Daegu, and they’re restricting access, too.
CORNISH: In the meantime, in general, are things shutting down? Is it essentially too early in the outbreak for that level of worry among the public?
KUHN: Well, Daegu is pretty much clear of people. The streets are empty. Seoul has been subdued for weeks. Mass events have been postponed. Rallies in downtown Seoul, which are a feature of the political scene here, have been canceled. The main fear here is that the government will lose control of things. It’ll get out of hand. Interesting to note that the World Health Organization says right now, South Korea’s caseload is manageable. This is not a sign that this is going to become a global pandemic. And they actually have an opportunity, a window of opportunity before the caseload really takes off and the thing starts to spread within the country.
CORNISH: That’s NPR’s Anthony Kuhn in Seoul.
KUHN: You’re welcome, Audie.