Coronavirus feared to deal heavy blow to economy and people's livehihood

21, Feb. 2020

Photo by CDC on Unsplash
Photo by CDC on Unsplash

SEOUL, AJU - South Korea is in a "very severe" situation due to the proliferation of coronavirus infection, President Moon Jae-in said, warning a prolonged epidemic is feared to deal a heavy blow to the economy and the livelihoods of people.

On Friday, the number of patients infected with the highly contagious virus soared to 156, including 16 ex-patients who have been discharged from isolation wards after treatment. Health officials admitted that the virus has started infecting people at various places all over the country.

"The infection of COVID-19 progresses into a new phase. The early stages of community dissemination have just begun, but causes are relatively apparent," Health and Welfare Minister Park Neung-hu said, reporting 52 new cases on Friday.

The number of coronavirus patients has increased sharply, mostly in the southeastern city of Daegu and its surrounding North Gyeongsang province, since the 31st patient identified as a 61-year-old woman was guaranteed on February 17. She had participated in services at a nine-story temple run by Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu.

Health officials are tracking 9,000 people affiliated with the Shincheonji temple in Daegu and those who had stayed together with the 31st patient were ordered to go into obligatory quarantine at their homes for two weeks.

The head office of Shincheonji in Gwacheon, a southern satellite city of Seoul, has asked followers to restrict external activities. The religious organization, which was once caught up in a row over alleged heresy, claims the number of followers is far above 100,000 nationwide.

Daegu and the nearby county of Cheongdo were designated as a special management zone. The government will deploy public workers, including military medical personnel, and set up temporary protection facilities for those who have difficulty in self-quarantine.

All enlisted soldiers were ordered to stay inside barracks from February 22. The virus has infected three soldiers, including an Air Force first lieutenant assigned to the military compound in Gyeryong, a Navy sailor on the southern island of Jeju who tested positive after visiting his hometown in Daegu, and an Army officer who tested positive after meeting his girlfriend in Daegu.

In Seoul, Mayor Park Won-soon banned any rallies and demonstrations at three public parks in the center of the densely populated capital and closed more than 3,000 social welfare facilities.

The accumulated number of confirmed cases in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province exceeded 110, with many related to Shincheonji. A 63-year-old man was pronounced dead on Thursday at a care hospital for the elderly in Cheongdo. In a post-mortem test, doctors discovered the new coronavirus that also infected five nurses and patients in the hospital.

"The recent increase in confirmed cases in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province is raising concerns about the spread of infection in the community," Moon told a business meeting in Seoul on Friday, admitting the situation is "very severe."

"The economic contraction is also a great concern," the president said, citing business difficulties and shrinking consumption. "If prolonged, it is feared to deal a heavy blow not only to the economy but also to people's livelihoods."