Medical workers wearing protective gear carry a patient infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus at a hospital in Chuncheon on February 22, 2020. - South Korea reported 142 more coronavirus cases on February 22, the sharpest spike in infections yet, with more than half of the new cases linked to a hospital in a southern city. The national toll of 346 is now the second-highest outside of China. (Photo by - / YONHAP / AFP) / - South Korea OUT / REPUBLIC OF KOREA OUT NO ARCHIVES RESTRICTED TO SUBSCRIPTION USE

SEOUL: South Korea reported 142 more coronavirus cases yesterday, the sharpest spike in infections yet, with many new cases involving patients being treated in hospital for mental health issues.

The national toll of 346 is now the second-highest outside of China, with the jump in cases at the hospital in the southern city of Cheongdo following a similar spike among members of a religious sect in the nearby city of Daegu.

Among the new cases, 92 were “related” to patients or staff at Cheongdo Daenam Hospital, the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said.

“Most of the hospital’s patients who have been diagnosed are those who had been staying as inpatients for mental illnesses,” Seoul’s vice health minister Kim Gang-lip told reporters.
Some cases show “no confirmed epidemiological connections”, meaning they are not sure where or how they contracted the virus, he added.

Authorities reported another death on Saturday, taking the toll to two. Both victims had been inpatients at the hospital.

Medical workers wearing protective gear carry a patient infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus at a hospital in Chuncheon. Photo: AFP

Almost 170 members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus have now been infected, starting with a 61-year-old woman who attended at least four services at the church’s Daegu branch before being diagnosed.

“Those who are related to Shincheonji’s Daegu branch account for 48 percent of all confirmed cases,” KCDC director Jung Eun-kyeong told reporters.

KCDC said some 9,300 Shincheonji members in Daegu have either been quarantined at facilities or have been asked to stay at home. Among them, 1,261 said they had symptoms, health officials added.

The mayor of Daegu — South Korea’s fourth-biggest city, with a population of over 2.5 million — has advised locals to stay indoors, while access to a major US military base in the area has been restricted.

One of the Shincheonji members in Daegu visited China — where the deadly virus was first detected — in January, while some three others are believed to have travelled to other countries, KCDC director Jung said.

Cheongdo, some 27 kilometres south of Daegu, is the birthplace of Shincheonji’s founder Lee Man-hee.

County officials said on Friday that a three-day funeral was held for one of the church members three weeks ago at a hall owned by the Cheongdo hospital.

Shincheonji is often accused of being a cult and claims its founder Lee has donned the mantle of Jesus Christ and will take 144,000 people with him to heaven on the day of judgement.
But with more church members than available places in heaven, they are said to have to compete for slots and pursue converts persistently and secretively. – AFP