South Korea links spread of COVID-19 to a church gathering

South Korea’s president said he was putting the country on “red alert” due to the rapid rise in new cases, which are largely being traced back to church services.

Health officials reported 169 new infections, bringing the total to 602, having doubled from Friday to Saturday.

The last time South Korea raised the alert to the highest was 11 years ago during the Influenza A or H1N1 outbreak.

Many of South Korea’s new cases were linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus congregation in Daegu after a 61-year-old woman known as “Patient 31” tested positive for the virus last week. The woman had no recent record of overseas travel.

Catholic churches in Daegu and Gwangju have suspended mass and other gatherings, while churches elsewhere saw declines in attendance on Sunday, especially among the elderly.

“If the situation gets worse, I think we’ll need to take more measures. Currently, we’re limiting personal gatherings within the church except for Mass,” said Song Gi-young, 53, wearing a face mask at church.

Wuhan

North Korea has temporarily banned all tourists from entering the country over fears the Chinese coronavirus will spread, reports say.

Two foreign tour operators today revealed officials in the Hermit Kingdom told them borders will close until the outbreak is ‘well under control’.

A South Korean budget airline has also announced it will postpone the launch of its cheap flights to Wuhan, the Chinese city at the centre of the outbreak.

T’way Air said the decision was ‘inevitable’ given the spiralling number of cases, with 325 people across Asia now confirmed to have the virus.

Six patients have died from the SARS-like infection, which has spread to Taiwan, as well as Thailand, South Korea and Japan.

Scientists are desperately trying to contain the outbreak of the never-before-seen virus, which officials yesterday confirmed has passed between humans.

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