Korea’s new coronavirus patients totaled 5,261 on Tuesday, 43 days after the nation reported the first confirmed case on Jan. 20.
The nation’s, which reported 600 new cases as of 5 p.m. Monday, added 374 more over the first 16 hours of Tuesday, bringing the 24-hour total to 974, the second-largest since it registered 1,062 on Sunday.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention no longer releases regional breakdown in the afternoon. However, Daegu and surrounding North Gyeongsang Province continued to account for three-quarters of the nation’s total infections. Notably, the Shincheoji Church of Jesus is responsible for turning out nearly 60 percent of total infections.
On Monday, the founder of the secretive religious sect, Lee Man-hee, apologized for raising concerns at a news conference in front of the church’s training center in Gapyeong, Gyeonggi Province. It was the first time the sect leader appeared before the public.
“We do not have the data on whether 210,000 church members have traveled to Wuhan, China. Nor do we have the administrative capacity to check all 210,000 members,” Lee said after bowing deeply twice. “All the church-related places are closed, and few members are submitting the data."
Asked about his whereabouts over the past month or so, Lee prevaricated and corrected his answer with the help of his aides. The news conference was troubled by outcries from protesters, including the parents of young church members who claimed their children were tricked by the heretical sect, causing Lee to raise voice to the crowd to be quiet.
The 90-year-old sect leader drew attention by wearing a wristwatch allegedly given by ousted former President Park Geun-hye, whose political support base is Daegu.
A public health center in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province, collected Lee's sample and requested for diagnosis and later said Lee showed negative.
Meanwhile, the government is making all-out efforts to improve the supply of face masks as the country's novel coronavirus situation worsens. Still, public anger is running high over its hastily orchestrated supply scheme.
The country last week approved a plan to limit face mask exports to a maximum of 10 percent of total output and distribute 50 percent through public retail platforms, claiming that this will supply 5 million protective masks to the domestic market daily beginning Thursday.
Under the scheme, state-supplied masks are available for purchase at post offices, pharmacies, medical institutions, and supermarkets operated by the National Agricultural Cooperative Federation, better known as Nonghyup here.
The Education Ministry has put off the opening of the new school year at the nation’s elementary and secondary schools by two more weeks to March 23.
As more countries are barring entrance from Korea, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence, the coronavirus czar, said on Monday that South Korea would carry out fever screening and health checks at their airports for all passengers flying non-stop flights to the U.S. Eighty-nine countries and regions have imposed entry bans or quarantine measures against people from Korea.
As of 10 a.m. Tuesday, the number of people tested for COVID-19 surpassed 120,000. Korea conducted testing on 121,039 people aside from the 5,186 confirmed cases, and 71,580 showed negative. The other 35,555 are currently under the government’s analysis.
So far, 31 people, mostly those with underlying diseases, have died of COVID-19, with 34 leaving the hospital fully recovered.
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