South Korea 'very grave' as coronavirus cases approach 900

Tuesday February 25 2020

The novel coronavirus outbreak in South Korea is "very grave", President Moon Jae-in said Tuesday as he visited its epicentre, even as the country announced its smallest rise in cases for several days.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) confirmed 60 new cases in its morning update -- after three days of triple-digit increases -- taking the tally to 893, the largest national total anywhere outside China.

More than 80 percent of the infections have been in South Korea's fourth-largest city Daegu and neighbouring North Gyeongsang province.


South Korean President Moon Jae-in speaks during a government meeting on the COVID-19 epidemic at the government complex in Seoul on February 23, 2020. PHOTO | YONHAP | AFP

"The situation is very grave," President Moon Jae-in said on a visit to Daegu, wearing the uniform of a government emergency official and vowing full government support.

"We will achieve a victory in the fight against this virus," he added.


Workers from a cleaning and disinfection service spray disinfectant in a train as part of efforts to prevent the spread of novel coronavirus at Suseo railway station in Seoul, South Korea on January 24, 2020. PHOTO | HOONG-GI | AFP

The streets of Daegu -- which has a population of 2.5 million -- have been largely deserted for days, apart from long queues at the few shops with masks for sale.

Authorities urged the public to exercise extra caution, advising citizens to stay home if they have a fever or respiratory symptoms.

South Korea's parliament cancelled sessions Tuesday as it closed for cleaning after confirmation a person with the coronavirus had attended a meeting last week.

The country's flag carrier Korean Air also reported a cabin crew member had tested positive, without giving details.


Workers from the Korea Pest Control Association spray disinfectant as part of preventive measures against the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, at the National Assembly in Seoul on February 25, 2020. PHOTO | YONHAP | AFP

And the US hinted at scaling back joint military exercises, with Defense Secretary Mark Esper telling reporters in Washington the two allies' militaries were "looking at scaling back the command post training due to concerns about the coronavirus".

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advised travellers to "avoid all nonessential travel" to South Korea.

Hong Kong has said it will not allow arrivals from South Korea other than returning residents, while a Mongolian ban on flights to and from the South came into force Tuesday.

Two more people had died, the KCDC said, taking the toll to nine.

South Korea has an advanced medical system, a free press and a strong culture of public accountability, and observers say that its health statistics can be treated with confidence.


People in traditional Korean hanbok dresses wear face masks as they visit Gyeongbokgung palace in Seoul on February 23, 2020. PHOTO | AFP


Scores of events have been cancelled or postponed, from K-pop concerts to the start of the K-league football season.

Two AFC Champions League matches in South Korea next week will take place behind closed doors because of the deadly coronavirus outbreak, the clubs announced Tuesday.

No fans will be allowed when FC Seoul play Thailand's Chiangrai United next Tuesday or the following day as Ulsan face Australia's Perth Glory in Asia's Premier club competition, the clubs said in separate statements.

The World Team Table Tennis Championship in Busan in March fell victim on Tuesday, with organisers saying new dates in June had been "provisionally reserved".

The Korean Basketball League said it would hold matches behind closed doors "until the situation improves".


Spraying of disinfectant to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus at a market in Seoul on February 24, 2020. PHOTO | JUNG YEON-JE | AFP


Most of the country's infections are linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, an entity often accused of being a cult.

A 61-year-old female member developed a fever on February 10, but attended at least four church services in Daegu before being diagnosed.

KCDC director Jung Eun-kyeong advised Shincheonji followers to refrain from going outside "as much as possible".

With public criticism growing, Shincheonji's founder Lee Man-hee said the group would provide the government a list of all its members to have them tested for the virus.