Coronavirus fears grip South Korea as President Moon warns of ‘very grave’ outbreak, officials screen 200,000 ‘cult’ members and Korean Air cabin crew member tests positive

Tuesday, February 25, 2020
By Paul Martin

Streets in the southeastern city of Daegu, which has 80 per cent of the country’s cases, fell quiet this morning
Residents said they were rushing to shops to stock up on supplies and calling friends to ask if they were well
Authorities announced the city would be under ‘maximum’ quarantine today to contain the virus
South Korea reported its tenth death and 144 new cases this morning, bringing it up to 977 cases of COVID-19

25 February 2020

Coronavirus fears have gripped South Korea as President Moon warned of a ‘very grave’ outbreak, officials screened 200,000 ‘cult’ members and a Korean Air cabin crew member tested positive for the deadly virus.

Concerns centred on the southeastern city of Daegu this morning where residents donned face-masks, wore vinyl gloves on trains, rushed to supermarkets to stock up on instant noodles and rice, and called friends to ask if they were still alive.

The streets of its usually bustling Dongseongro commercial district were quiet, with only a few pedestrians seen, as workers wearing black protective gear sprayed disinfectant at a deserted Lotte Department Store branch.

Efforts to halt the spread have focused on the city after more than 80 per cent of the country’s cases were identified there.

South Korea has said it aims to test the 200,000 members of its ‘cult-like’ Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which accounts for 68 per cent of the metropolis’ cases. There are 1,300 members of the Daegu church that are said to already be showing symptoms. They have been placed in mandatory quarantine with 8,000 other members.

The virus was first identified in the city in a 61-year-old woman from the religious group. However, it is unlikely that this individual set off the chain of infections as she has no record of overseas travel, authorities said.

Authorities said they had tested 13,000 people on Monday and expect to test another 12,500 today, up from about 7,500 a day previously.

A Korean Air cabin crew has also tested positive for the virus, the airline said, prompting it to shut its office near Incheon International airport and fears that an aircraft may have carried COVID-19 to other countries.

South Korea reported its tenth death from coronavirus and a further 144 new cases this morning, bringing its total cases to 977 since the outbreak began.

Residents in Daegu, which was placed under ‘maximum’ quarantine measures this morning by the government, have said they fear contracting the virus which is shutting down normal life in their hometown.

‘I’m also a human being and scared of contracting the virus,’ Choe Hee-suk, a 37-year-old office worker in Daegu, said. ‘We call each other here and half-jokingly ask whether they are alive and tell each other not to wander around.’

Oh Sang-hak, a taxi driver, said he hadn’t worked for several days because he was uneasy about picking up strangers with the virus circulating in the city.

‘It’s like time has stopped … and there is just no movement,’ Oh said. ‘Until last week, we thought the coronavirus was someone else’s problem.’

Lee Nag-hyeon, 63, said he thinks media reports on virus fears in Daegu have been a bit exaggerated. But he said he saw a masked woman wearing a pair of disposable gloves when he took a subway on Monday. He said he also heard about convenience store staff wearing goggles when dealing with customers.

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