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|South Korean soldiers wearing protective gear sanitize a city after the rapid rise in confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus disease of (COVID-19) in Daegu, southeast of the capital Seoul, March 2, 2020. Reuters|
So far, 28 people, mostly patients with underlying illnesses, have died in South Korea from the respiratory virus that emerged in China late last year. Daegu reported one more death from the virus earlier in the day, but the new death was not included in an official update.
The global death toll has topped 3,100, with casualties in China, Iran and the United States. On Monday, the number of COVID-19 deaths rose to six in the US, all in the state of Washington, officials said.
South Korea has the highest number of infections outside China.
The 600 new cases, which were tallied at midnight Monday, followed the nation's sharpest daily spikes of 1,062 as of end-Sunday and 813 as of end-Saturday.
About 60 percent of confirmed cases have been linked to a branch of the Shincheonji religious sect in the southeastern city of Daegu, the country's fourth-largest city, with a population of 2.5 million.
The justice ministry said last week that some members of the religious group visited the Chinese city of Wuhan, the global epicenter of the virus.
Of the new cases, 519 are in Daegu, 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, and 61 are in neighboring North Gyeongsang Province, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). The total number of cases in Daegu and North Gyeongsang stood at 3,600 and 685, respectively.
Other major provinces and cities have also reported some infections, with Seoul seeing seven additional cases to 98. Busan's caseload rose by two to 90. New cases were reported in several provinces, including Gyeonggi, Gangwon and South Chungcheong.
Since raising the virus alert level to "red," the highest level, on Feb. 23, health authorities have focused on halting the spread of the virus in Daegu, the epicenter of the virus outbreak here, and North Gyeongsang Province.
Half of South Korea's cases are linked to a sect whose leader apologised on Monday for the spread of the disease.
Seoul's city government have asked prosecutors to press murder charges against him for failing to cooperate in efforts to contain the virus.
Experts said the number of confirmed cases is expected to increase in the coming days as health authorities have begun testing more than 210,000 members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus at the center of the rapid spread in other provinces.
After the first outbreak on Jan. 20 in South Korea, the pace of infections had not been alarming until Feb. 18, when a 61-year-old woman who is tied to the Daegu religious sect tested positive for the virus.
Since then, the nation has seen an explosion in infections as it has accelerated virus tests on potential cases.
South Korea has released 34 fully recovered novel coronavirus patients from hospitals as of Monday at midnight, up 3 from a day earlier, the KCDC said.
The number of people being checked for the virus and under quarantine came to 35,555, it added. The country has tested a total of 121,039 suspected cases, with 85,484 testing negative.
Currently, there is no evidence that the new coronavirus is airborne. The World Health Organization said the virus is transmitted through droplets or close contact. The best measures to protect yourself from the virus are to wash your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds and avoid mass gatherings, health officials said./.