South Korea Adopts Tough Measures To Stop The Coronavirus As Cases Break Out In Church And Hospital
By Donald Kirk
South Korea is adopting tough emergency measures to stop the coronavirus from devastating the country after an outbreak in a church in the southeastern city of Daegu and in a nearby town.
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As of Friday, the East Asian country has 204 coronavirus cases—the most outside China where the virus originated from—and double the number in Japan, which has the third most cases in the world.
Considering all the traffic from the huge southeastern port of Busan through Daegu to Seoul, Park Won-soon, the mayor of the Korean capital, promised “urgent and firm measures to prevent the virus from spreading in local communities.” He banned demonstrations that draw thousands of flag-waving rightists into central Seoul on weekends, closed a historic park that’s a gathering place for elderly people and said he would shut down several thousand welfare centers.
Rightists promptly denounced the ban on demonstrations in central Seoul as politically motivated and vowed to defy police reinforcements that will be flooding the downtown area to keep them away. The mayor said one reason for the stringent measure was that many of the protesters are middle-aged or older.
The virus, Mayor Park observed, “shows a high fatality rate among the elderly people so the concerns on the virus spread and the health risks are increasing.”
The mayor tightened control over citizens torn between fears the virus could come to Seoul and the desire to go on leading normal lives. On buses and subways, most people donned face masks as protection against both the virus and air bearing fine dust from the northern Chinese region of Manchuria, but shops and streets were still crowded.
Not so in Daegu, where rows of shops were shuttered and many streets were blocked off. Subways and buses, normally jam-packed, carried only small numbers of passengers. Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun proclaimed Daegu and nearby Cheongdo as “special care zones” to which extra medical teams were rushed to try and stop the disease from penetrating the rest of the country.
“The government has so far focused on curbing infections coming from outside the country,” said Chung, but henceforth would prioritize “preventing the virus from spreading locally.”
One particular focal point was the Daegu branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus Christ, a cult that has gained a wide following in recent years. The virus spread from a 61-year-old woman in the congregation, prompting Mayor Park in Seoul to order the closure of all Shincheonji churches in Seoul.
Besides Daegu, the virus also broke out in a hospital in Cheongdo, where an elderly man who had been bedridden 20 years became the first person in Korea to die from the virus. More than 200 people have been infected going into the weekend, and the number is expected to rise sharply in the coming days.
An air force officer, an army soldier and a sailor were reported to have caught the virus. The armed forces announced that all military people would have to remain on their bases until the virus no longer posed a serious danger.
Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo said the sailor was returning to his base on the southern island of Jeju from Daegu. Wearing a mask, he entered a convenience store. By the time he got to his unit, he was coughing.
All members of the unit were quarantined while being tested for the disease.