South Korea ’ s coronavirus cases nearly doubled on Friday, rising above 200 and making it the worst – affected country outside China as the number of infections linked to a religious sect spiked .
A total of 100 new cases were confirmed by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention , 85 of them connected to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the southern city of Daegu .
More than 120 members of Shincheonji have now been infected , starting with a 61-year – old woman who developed a fever on February 10 but attended at least four church services before being diagnosed.
The mayor of Daegu — South Korea ’ s fourth- biggest city , with a population of over 2 . 5 million — has advised locals to stay indoors, while access to a major US military base in the area has been restricted.
People were out and about on the streets on Friday, with most wearing masks , but many businesses were closed due to the outbreak .
Workers on motorcycles sprayed disinfectant outside the Shincheonji church in the city, where passer – by Seo Dong – min , 24, told AFP, “With so many confirmed cases here I’ m worried that Daegu will become the second Wuhan , ” referring to the Chinese city where the virus first emerged .
Shincheonji is often accused of being a cult and claims its founder, Lee Man – hee , has donned the mantle of Jesus Christ and will take 144 , 000 people with him to heaven on the day of judgement .
But with more church members than available places in heaven, they are said to have to compete for slots and pursue converts persistently and secretively .
The KCDC said one more virus case had been confirmed at a hospital in Cheongdo county near Daegu where a total of 16 infections have now been identified, including a long -stay patient who died Wednesday after showing symptoms of pneumonia.
Cheongdo is the birthplace of Shincheonji’ s founder Lee , and county officials said a three-day funeral was held for his brother three weeks ago at a hall owned by the hospital .
President Moon Jae – in called for a “thorough investigation ” of everyone who attended the funeral and Shincheonji services .
“ If you simply rely on the information provided by the church, the process can be slow , ” he told a cabinet meeting . “ We need faster measures. ”
KCDC said 4 , 475 Shincheonji members had been tested in Daegu and 544 said they had symptoms .
The city ’ s renowned Mijin restaurant , which has been in business for over 40 years, was closed , with a notice reading : “ For your safety , we are suspending the business until coronavirus – 19 is under control .
We wish you and your family good health . ”
And Lee Yoo – jin , 73, who runs a dress shop in the city centre.
“ I have not had a single customer this week .
I have run the shop for over 20 years and never have I seen such a drop . ”
Residents expressed frustration, with a passer – by at the church saying authorities should have closed a nearby subway station for cleaning .
“ Now it ’ s all over the place, ” said the woman , surnamed Kim .
“ It’ s too late now . ”
The central government on Friday declared Daegu and Cheongdo “ special management zones” , with Prime Minister Chung Sye -kyun saying the region would be supported with medical personnel, beds and equipment and the cabinet will meet three times a week to discuss the outbreak .
Authorities in Seoul banned public rallies at three main locations on health and safety grounds .
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 .
“ Travel in and around Daegu is highly discouraged unless absolutely necessary , ” the garrison said Thursday in a Facebook post.
“ Please avoid public places and public transportation , to include stores , restaurants , subways and other heavily congested areas. ”
Shincheonji has closed all its facilities nationwide .
“ We are deeply sorry that because of one of our members , who thought of her condition as cold because she had not travelled abroad, led to many in our church being infected and thereby caused concern to the local community, ” it said in a statement .
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