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South Korea reports second COVID-19 death, total 433 infection cases

13:40 | 22/02/2020

South Korea reported its second death on Saturday (Feb 22) from the novel coronavirus as the number of new cases rose by 299, bringing the total number of infections in the nation to 433.

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Seoul Metro employees spray disinfectant as part of efforts to prevent the spread of a new virus which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, at a subway station in Seoul on Jan 28, 2020. (Photo: AFP/Yonhap)

The national toll is now the second-highest outside of China.

The number of COVID-19 infections has spiked in the past several days, with most new infections traced to Daenam Hospital in the southeastern county of Cheongdo and a minor Christian sect in the southeastern city of Daegu.

Among the latest cases, 92 were connected to a hospital in Cheongdo, a southern city connected to a religious sect, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A 63-year-old man, who died of pneumonia at the hospital on Wednesday, posthumously tested positive for the virus.

On Friday, another patient at the same hospital died from COVID-19, the second death from the virus here.

Most of the hospital's patients who have been diagnosed are those who had been staying as inpatients for mental illnesses," Seoul's vice health minister Kim Gang-lip told reporters.

More than 150 members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus have now been infected, starting with a 61-year-old woman who developed a fever on Feb 10 but attended at least four church services in Daegu before being diagnosed.

The mayor of Daegu - South Korea's fourth-biggest city, with a population of over 2.4 million - has advised locals to stay indoors, while access to a major US military base in the area has been restricted.

KCDC said around 9,300 Shincheonji members in Daegu have either been quarantined at facilities or asked to stay at home. Among them, 544 said they had symptoms, health officials added.

Cheongdo, around 27km south of Daegu, is the birthplace of Shincheonji's founder Lee Man-hee.

County officials said Friday that a three-day funeral was held for his brother three weeks ago at a hall owned by the hospital.

President Moon Jae-in on Friday called for a "thorough investigation" of everyone who attended the funeral and Shincheonji services.

The central government on Friday had 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.

Shincheonji offered an apology, suspending its worship services and gatherings nationwide.

"We are deeply sorry that because of one of our members, who thought of her condition as a 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./.

VNF/AFP/Yonhap