South Korea reports first virus death as 2.5M urged to stay home

SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) — Yonhap news agency said South Korea has reported its first death from a new coronavirus.

The Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention did not immediately provide details.

The report came as South Korea is struggling to cope with the outbreak and its economic fallout.

Yesterday, South Korea said it has confirmed a total of 82 cases of the virus.

The mayor of the South Korean city of Daegu urged its 2.5 million people yesterday to refrain from going outside as cases of a new virus, linked to a church congregation, spiked and he pleaded for help from the central government.

Workers wearing protective gears spray disinfectant against the new coronavirus in Daegu, South Korea. PHOTO: AP

Mayor Kwon Young-jin made the appeal in a nationally televised news conference after the southeastern city and its nearby towns reported 35 additional cases of infection with the new coronavirus yesterday.

Kwon also asked Daegu citizens to wear masks even indoors if possible. He expressed fears that the rising infections in the region will soon overwhelm the city’s health infrastructure and called for urgent help from the central government in Seoul.

“National quarantine efforts that are currently focussed on blocking the inflow of the virus (from China) and stemming its spread are inadequate for preventing the illness from circulating in local communities,” Kwon said.

The Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention said 28 of those 35 new patients went to church services attended by a previously confirmed virus patient or contacted her at other places inside a Daegu church. That patient is a South Korean woman in her early 60s who has no recent record of overseas travel, according to centre officials.

She tested positive for the virus on Tuesday, becoming the 31st case in South Korea.

The explosion of infections in Daegu and the neighbouring southeast region, as well as some new cases in the Seoul metropolitan area where the sources of infections were unclear, have raised concern that health authorities are losing track of the virus as it spreads more broadly in the country.

Kwon spoke shortly before South Korea’s government for the first time acknowledged that the country was beginning to see a “community transmission” of the illness, albeit at a “limited range”.