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Shincheonji head apologizes, vows full support

South Korea’s coronavirus cases exceed 4,200 with 26 deaths

March 2, 2020 - 16:15 By Ock Hyun-ju

The leader of a minor South Korean Christian sect linked to more than half of the country’s coronavirus cases apologized to the public Monday for the spread of the virus, which has sickened more than 4,300 people and killed at least 26.

Korea reported 599 more cases, bringing the total infections to 4,335. A total of 26 people have died from the virus infection, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Faced with an aggravating hospital shortage and to prevent further fatalities, Korea opened the first treatment center exclusively for patients with mild symptoms in Daegu, the country’s southeastern city at the heart of the outbreak. This would allow a more efficient allocation of medical resources to high-risk patients, authorities said.

The head of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, the single largest cluster of infections with over 2,100 cases, made his first public appearance since the outbreak.

“I would like to offer my sincere apology to the people on behalf of our members,” Lee Man-hee, founder of the church, said at a press briefing held outside the sect’s building in Gapyeong, Gyeonggi Province.

The 88-year-old leader bowed on his knees twice and pledged full support to cooperate with the government in combating the spread of the virus in the televised press conference.

According to the tally by regions Monday morning, 80 percent of the new COVID-19 cases were reported in Daegu and 68 in North Gyeongsang Province. The number of cases in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province was 3,705, accounting for 87.9 percent of the country’s total.

The pace of new cases shows no signs of slowing, with the government testing more than 210,000 members of the Shincheonji Church. About 46 percent of the members have been tested so far, health authorities said during a briefing.

The government said it is concentrating containment efforts on Shincheonji followers because they were more likely to test positive, compared with those with no ties to the sect.

Nonmedical facilities to quarantine and treat patients with mild or no symptoms went into operation Monday to tackle the lack of hospital beds after several patients died while waiting to be hospitalized.

Those infected with the virus are categorized in four groups according to their condition. Those showing no or mild symptoms make up about 80 percent of the country’s total cases. 

At the facilities, patients have their health monitored by medical personnel and those who develop more severe symptoms are being transferred to hospitals.

The first such facility that opened in Daegu can accommodate about 160 people with 17 medical personnel. Two more such facilities will open in North Gyeongsang Province this week, which could provide room for 463 more patients, the authorities said.

According to the Daegu City government, 1,050 people infected with the virus have been hospitalized as of Monday morning, while 2,008 people were under quarantine at their homes while waiting to be admitted to hospitals.

So far, a total of 71,580 people have tested negative for the virus, with 33,799 more awaiting their test results. Some 31 patients were released from quarantine after making full recoveries.

The death toll stands at 26, with most of them being old and having preexisting conditions. The death rate from the coronavirus stands at 0.5 percent. The rate for those in their 70s and in their 80s or over stood at 3.1 percent and 3.7 percent, respectively, according to the KCDC.

Some 34 people remain in critical condition, the KCDC said.

Starting Monday, the government’s tally of confirmed coronavirus cases by region, which is announced every day at 10 a.m. on the KCDC’s website, will be based on the number of patients tallied at midnight. Previously, a morning update was based on the number tallied at 9 a.m.

An updated tally for the day -- based on the number between midnight and 4 p.m. -- is to be released at 5 p.m.