Korea reported an additional 274 COVID-19 patients in the first 16 hours of Saturday, bringing the nation's total number of infections to 7,041.
With most new virus infections still occurring in the southeastern city of Daegu and surrounding North Gyeongsang Province, another mass infection took place at an apartment complex in Daegu, with a third of its residents infected with the novel coronavirus.
The health authorities put the apartment under cohort quarantine for the first time.
As of 4 p.m. Saturday, 47 people, mostly elderly patients with underlying illnesses, have died in Korea from the respiratory virus, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said. Thirty-six are in critical condition while 118 have been released, up 10 from a day earlier, after fully recovering from the virus, the KCDC added.
The 47th patient is a Korean female in her 80s who had pneumonia and died of COVID-19 today. She was hospitalized on Feb. 26 after confirming the infection on Feb. 22.
Concerns over group infections further rose after residents at an apartment in Daegu were put into group isolation following mass infections at the residential complex. "A lot of the residents at the apartment were found to be relatively young Shincheonji followers. (The apartment) has been put under isolation on the possibility that additional cases may occur," KCDC Deputy Director Kwon Jun-wook said. Most of the recent confirmed cases are due to group infections, he added.
Daegu municipal officials said 46 out of the 142 residents at the city-run apartment for unmarried women were confirmed to have been infected. They added that 94 of the residents, including the 46 who tested positive, were members of the Shincheonji Church, the religious sect at the center of cluster infections in the city. More than 60 percent of the country's infections are linked to Shincheonji, the fringe religious sect that is known to have more than 210,000 members nationwide.
Fourteen confirmed patients were transported to hospitals and 32 patients are waiting for hospitalization.
The health authorities also reported the first case of new coronavirus among the central government employees – a female official in her 20s at the Ministry of Health and Welfare working at the Government Office Complex in Sejong. She reportedly took lessons from a Zumba dance instructor, confirmed as a virus holder later.
The government complex temporarily closed and sterilized part of the fifth floor of where the ministry is located.
"We instructed all employees to stay at home unless they have special reasons," Vice Minister of Health and Welfare Kim Kang-lip said. "We will put out measures to sterilize the patient's travel route and place the employees who had close contacts with the patient under self-quarantine depending on the epidemiological investigation result."
The government will also put Daegu under a special control for the following few weeks as the citizens' COVID-19 confirmation rate, even excluding the Shincheonji Church members, reached almost 10 percent.
On a central governmental level, meanwhile, Korea will strengthen screening procedures on travelers entering the nation from Japan, from Monday.
"Visitors coming from Japan will follow our strengthened entry steps from Monday," Kim said. "The measures were announced yesterday, and we need to prepare for the special entry procedure to prevent COVID-19." The move came as a tit-for-tat after Tokyo took a similar step on Friday.
From Friday midnight to 4 p.m. Saturday, Korea reported an additional 274 patients to push up the total to 7,041. The number of people tested for COVID-19 totaled 171,422 people, aside from the 7,041 confirmed cases. Among the total, 151,802 showed negative, with the results of the other 19,620 are being analyzed.
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