Corona Virus
Corona Virus Image Credit: Gulf News

Tokyo: South Korea raised its alert on the coronavirus to the highest level Sunday after reporting three more deaths and 169 new infections.

The country has seen a rapid surge in the number of coronavirus cases since a cluster of infections emerged from a religious sect in the southern city of Daegu.

The national toll of 602 cases is now the highest outside China, apart from the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan.

One of the victims was at a hospital in Cheongdo, a southern city linked to the religious sect, where around 100 cases were reported.

Among the latest infections, 75 involved the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the southern city of Daegu, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement.

Hundreds of members of the church have now been infected, starting with a 61-year-old woman who developed a fever on February 10 but attended at least four church services in Daegu before being diagnosed.

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Daegu - South Korea's fourth-biggest city, with a population of 2.5 million - reported more than 90 new cases on Sunday, bringing the city's total to 247, mayor Kwon Young-jin said.

"The crisis level of Daegu and the North Gyeongsang province is grave," said Kwon, who advised locals to stay indoors.

The mayor asked all Shincheonji members with symptoms to come forward and be tested.

"Hiding is not the answer. If you hide, it could hurt your health, your family's health, and will not help in the early cessation of the situation," Kwon told a news conference.

Daegu and Cheongdo - the birthplace of Shincheonji's founder Lee Man-hee - were desginated as "special management zones" on Friday.

'Increased caution'

The US State Department on Saturday raised its travel advisory to South Korea, joining a handful of countries bolstering their vigilance against the country's recent spike in the number of infections.

US citizens were asked to "exercise increased caution" when travelling to South Korea, where "sustained community spread" has been reported.

"Sustained community spread means that people in South Korea have been infected with the virus, but how or where they became infected is not known, and the spread is ongoing," the State Department said on its website.

Separately, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also issued an 'Alert Level 2' travel health notice, saying "older adults and those with chronic medical conditions should consider postponing nonessential travel".

Britain has also advised its nationals "against all but essential travel to Daegu and Cheongdo", while Israel refused to allow non-Israelis to disembark from a plane that departed from South Korea on Saturday.


China's death toll from the coronavirus epidemic rose to 2,442 on Sunday after the government said 97 more people had died, all but one of them in the epicentre of Hubei province.

The National Health Commission also confirmed another 648 new cases in China.

The vast majority of both deaths and new infections were in the hard-hit Hubei provincial capital of Wuhan, where the virus first emerged in December.

China's total infections reached 76,936, the commission said in its daily update.

The coronavirus has spread to more than 25 countries and is causing mounting alarm due to new pockets of outbreak in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia.

China's numbers of daily new infections are well down from the outbreak's early height.

But China has sowed confusion about the data by repeatedly changing its counting methods.