iStock(SEOUL, South Korea) — South Korea has raised the alert level for the novel coronavirus to “highest” on Sunday as confirmed cases continue to rise at an alarming rate.
“The COVID-19 incident has been confronted by a grave watershed,” President Moon Jae-in said announcing the heightened response. “A few days from now is a very important moment,” he said at a government meeting held to deal with the crisis. This is the first time in 11 years that the country has raised virus alert levels to the highest level. With the previous time being for influenza A (H1N1).
There have been 169 additional cases and four deaths confirmed in the last 24 hours making a total of 602 confirmed cases and six dead. Eighteen were reported to have been treated fully and 8,057 people are suspected to have symptoms are going through tests, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said.
Among the newly confirmed cases were 18 people who had toured Israel and the West Bank on a group pilgrimage for a week earlier this month. It is not clear whether they were infected while in Israel. Tel Aviv authorities on Sunday announced that all foreign nationals who have been to South Korea and Japan in the past 14 days will be banned from entering Israel.
At the center of the recent surge of outbreaks, more than twelve-fold in the past four days, is a religious sect called Shincheonji. More than half of all confirmed patients are followers of this movement who had attended weekly services and gatherings this month. Health authorities have been screening all 9,000 worshipers known to have been there. The government on Sunday assigned ”special police forces” to track down about 600 other sect members left who were not reachable.
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