South Korea reported on Thursday (Feb 20) the first death in the country of a person infected with coronavirus and 22 new cases, bringing the total to 104.
The exact cause of death is being investigated, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement.
Most of the new cases confirmed are in the city of Daegu where a person who was infected with the virus had attended church services and visited a hospital before testing positive.
A large number of the country’s patients are linked to a 61-year-old woman who is a member of the Daegu branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, an entity often accused of being a cult.
The woman first developed a fever on Feb 10 but reportedly twice refused to be tested for the coronavirus on the grounds that she had not recently travelled abroad, and attended at least four services before being diagnosed.
The woman is also believed to have contaminated another person at a hospital.
The spike in new cases has prompted authorities to warn of possible further cases and asked Daegu citizens to stay indoors.
Daegu is South Korea’s fourth-largest city, with a population of 2.5 million.
Shincheonji claims that its founder Lee Man-hee has donned the mantle of Jesus Christ and will take 144,000 people with him to Heaven, body and soul, on the Day of Judgement.
Daegu’s municipal government said 1,001 Shincheonji members who were believed to have attended the same services as the woman had been asked to self-quarantine.
The emergency units at all four general hospitals in Daegu have been closed as a precaution, a city official told AFP.
The mayor’s request is not binding but one online poster who said they were in the city tweeted: “I can’t go out because of Shincheonji and it’s driving me crazy. Convenience stores and elderly community centres are closed, it takes twice as long for food delivery. It’s really making me insane.”
The US Army garrison in the city – where around 10,000 soldiers, civilians and family members live or work – restricted access and instructed any US troops who had recently attended Shincheonji services to self-quarantine.
“Travel in and around Daegu is highly discouraged unless absolutely necessary,” the garrison said Thursday in a Facebook post.
“Please avoid public places and public transportation, to include stores, restaurants, subways and other heavily congested areas.”
Shincheonji closed down all its facilities nationwide.
“We are deeply sorry that because of one of our members, who thought of her condition as a cold because she had not travelled abroad, led to many in our church being infected and thereby caused concern to the local community,” it said in a statement.