SEOUL – South Korea’s president declared war on the coronavirus on Tuesday, ordering additional hospital beds and more face masks to be made available as the number of cases rose by 974 in the worst epidemic of any nation outside China.
President Moon Jae-in apologized for shortages of face masks and promised support for virus-hit small businesses in Asia’s fourth-biggest economy, which has now reported 5,186 cases of the flu-like disease and 28 deaths.
“The entire country has entered war against the infectious disease as the crisis in Daegu and Gyeongbuk province has reached the highest point,” he told a cabinet meeting, referring to the hardest-hit parts of the country.
“I am very sorry to the people that we are not able to supply masks swiftly and sufficiently, and have caused inconvenience.”
The virus which originated in China late last year began to spread rapidly in South Korea after it entered the congregation of a Christian sect in Daegu city, the Shincheonji Church of Jesus.
Daegu’s mayor told reporters he had asked the president for 3,000 more hospital rooms to cope with the rising number of the coronavirus patients.
The leader of the sect and self-proclaimed messiah Lee Man-hee tested negative for the virus on Monday, having been threatened with arrest unless he agreed to be examined.
He had earlier apologized for the sect’s role in spreading the virus and called the epidemic a “great calamity”.
The church and Lee personally have come under intense scrutiny and growing public anger, and some politicians have reported them for prosecution.
BATTLE FOR MASKS
President Moon ordered masks to be stockpiled as a strategic item so suppliers can increase output without fear of producing surplus.