Coronavirus fears seized South Korea when President Moon warned of a “very serious” outbreak, officials screened 200,000 “cult” members, and a member of the Korean Air cabin crew tested positive for the deadly virus.
The concern this morning focused on the southeastern city of Daegu, where residents were wearing face masks, wearing vinyl gloves on trains, rushing to supermarkets to stock up instant noodles and rice, and calling friends to ask if they were still alive.
The streets of the usually bustling Dongseongro commercial district were quiet, with only a few pedestrians seen, while workers with black protective clothing sprayed disinfectant into an abandoned Lotte department store.
Attempts to stop the spread are aimed at the city after more than 80 percent of the country’s cases were identified there.
South Korea has said it wants to test the 200,000 members of its “cult-like” Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which represents 68 percent of the metropolis’s cases. There are 1,300 members of the Daegu Church who are reportedly already showing symptoms. They have been placed in mandatory quarantine with 8,000 other members.
The virus was first identified in the city by a 61-year-old woman from the religious group. However, it is unlikely that this person caused the chain of infections because she has no data on travel abroad, the authorities said.
Authorities said they had tested 13,000 people on Monday and expect to test another 12,500 today, an increase of about 7,500 a day earlier.
A cabin crew from the Korean air has also tested positive for the virus, the airline said, closing its office close to Incheon International Airport and fearing that a COVID-19 aircraft may have been transported to other countries.
South Korea reported this morning its tenth death from coronavirus and 144 new cases, bringing the total number to 977 since the outbreak began.
Coronavirus fears have seized South Korea today. Above, a man in a hazmat suit is spraying disinfectant outside the Korean Air office at Incheon International Airport after the virus was diagnosed by one of his cabin crew members
South Korean President Moon Jae-in appeared on the camera today in a yellow emergency uniform and a government face mask because he said the country is facing a “very serious” situation. It is depicted at Daegu’s town hall
The president showed that he was aware of the situation through the head of Daegu medical center Yoo Won-Shik (dressed in white)
The outbreak in the city centers of the ‘cult’ Shincheonji church, pictured above, where 68 percent of the cases are reported
South Korea reported its tenth death this morning and a further 144 cases, bringing the total to 977 cases
Residents in Daegu, who were placed under ‘maximum’ measures this morning by the government, have said they are afraid of contracting the virus that blocks normal life in their hometown.
“I am also human and afraid of catching the virus,” said Choe Hee-suk, a 37-year-old office worker in Daegu. “We call each other up here and ask ourselves half jokingly if they are still alive and tell each other not to walk around.”
Oh Sang-hak, a taxi driver, said he hadn’t been working for several days because he felt uncomfortable picking up strangers with the virus circulating in the city.
“It’s like time has stopped … and there’s just no movement,” Oh said. “Until last week we thought the coronavirus was someone else’s problem.”
Lee Nag-hyeon, 63, said he thinks media reports about virus fear in Daegu are a bit exaggerated. But he said he saw a masked woman wearing a pair of disposable gloves when he took a subway on Monday. He said he also heard about the staff of a supermarket dealing with customers.
On Monday, people with masks stood in long rows outside an Emart discount store in the Mancheon district of Daegu, trying to find face masks, which were also quickly sold out online.
Choe, the office worker, said she had three boxes of windows, four boxes of breakfast cereals and three bags of 20 kilograms of rice at her home. Lee said he started to write on his masks the dates he last wore for later use, when none are for sale anymore.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in pictured today with the nation in Daegu City Hall
Employees spray disinfectant on the ground at Seoul train station in the capital, while officials fight to slow the number of infections
A man in a hazmat suit is spraying this morning in front of the Korean Air office in Incheon
On the traditional market of Daegu on Gyodong on Monday, about half of the approximately 1,000 stores were closed and the number of visitors recently dropped by more than 90 percent.
“Maybe it would be better if all traders close their doors, but their livelihoods are here. So some have made the difficult decision to open their stores, “said Ahn Sook-hee, a market trader at an association of traders.
The virus also changes the scenes at weddings and funerals, events that usually attract large crowds in South Korea.
In Daegu’s Gangbug Convention wedding room, only two of the 10 planned wedding ceremonies were held during the weekend, with the other eight couples postponing their last-minute big day. A typical wedding ceremony would attract about 200 people, but the two on Saturday only had about 50, according to wedding room attendant Park Ye Jin.
In both ceremonies, everyone except the bride and groom had to wear masks. “We wouldn’t let anyone enter the hall if they didn’t wear masks,” Park said.
She said that most of the guests left without eating any of the food prepared at the banquet reception.
Ahn said all her planned meetings of family members and friends had been canceled, and that she had recently skipped a funeral and had just sent condolences to the relatives. Lee said that even if a good friend’s loved one were to die, he would not go to the funeral – an event for which he would feel obliged to be present in normal times.
Choe said her family had canceled her father’s 70-year birthday party, which would take place in a Daegu restaurant last Saturday with about 30 guests.
“We just had barbecues at home and my dad was very disappointed,” Choe said, adding that her family is planning a more formal party for him later this week.
President Moon Jae-in appeared on the camera this morning in the uniform of a government official and mask to announce “the situation is very serious.”
“We will win in the fight against this virus,” he said, trying to reassure civilians.
Passengers introduced themselves after returning from Israel to South Korea, which also reported cases
Two employees today wearing hazmat suits that are on standby at Chonnam National University
South Korea has stepped up efforts to test for the virus while trying to determine the extent of the outbreak. Every polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machine that South Korea uses to test for the virus performs four tests a day, against three in recent days, the KCDC said. Each test lasts two to three hours.
The leader of the Shincheonji Church said he had agreed to give the authorities the names of all members in South Korea.
The government would test all members as soon as possible to “control the spread of the virus and alleviate fear of the public,” the prime minister’s office said in a release.
The ‘cult church’ has agreed to hand over the names of all members of its congregation, but has asked the government to ensure that this information remains private.
The government’s goal is to stabilize the situation in Daegu within four weeks, said Deputy Health Minister Kim Kang-lip.
North Gyeongsang province has also seen increases in cases, most from a hospital in Cheongdo, and it was designated as a ‘special care zone’ last week along with Daegu.
On Tuesday, it was confirmed that 21 out of 33 cases from the province came from a home for the disabled in Chilgok County, also near Daegu, traced to an employee whose mother is a member of the Shincheonji Church in Daegu, Governor Lee Said Cheol-woo.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meanwhile, raised their warning level for South Korea and advised Americans to avoid all non-essential journeys to the country, citing the “widespread, ongoing outbreak” of the corona virus.
The US and South Korean military said they were considering reducing joint training, in one of the first concrete signs of the effects of the virus on global military activities in the US.
South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo told a press conference in Washington that 13 cases had been confirmed in the South Korean armed forces.