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Most of South Korea’s coronavirus cases linked to doomsday sect church

KCDC director Jung Eun-kyeong told reporters that Shincheonji services, which often gather followers in a crowded spaces, possibly led to mass transmissions.

A worker wearing protective gears in front of the Daenam Hospital in Cheongdo, South Korea the southeastern city where a surging viral outbreak, largely linked to a church in Daegu.

A worker wearing protective gears in front of the Daenam Hospital in Cheongdo, South Korea the southeastern city where a surging viral outbreak, largely linked to a church in Daegu.Credit:AP

South Korean President Moon Jae-in called for a full investigation into transmission clusters at a Shincheonji church in Daegu, in South Korea’s southeast, and at a funeral in Cheongdo County.

Since members of the church attended the funeral, the Cheongdo hospital reported 15 coronavirus cases, including South Korea’s first death from the virus on Thursday. A second coronavirus death, a woman in her 50s under hospital care, was reported Friday, also in Cheongdo.

Lee, who founded the church in 1984, said the mass infection is “a devil’s deed to curb the rapid growth of Shincheonji,” according to an internal message carried by South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.

Shincheonji said in a public statement Friday that it has shut and disinfected all its 74 churches nationwide.

The church is believed to have more than 200,000 adherents across the country. Followers equate Lee with the second coming of Jesus who will deliver salvation from an impending end of days.

Separately, the head of the World Health Organisation warned Friday that while the chance to contain the virus globally still exists, “the window of opportunity is narrowing.”

“We still have a chance to contain it, but we have to prepare for other eventualities,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the WHO.

“This could go in many directions, it could be even messy. It is in our hands now … we can reverse or avert serious crisis. If we don’t, if we squander this opportunity, then there could be a serious problem on our hands.”

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Among other measures, Tedros called for financial aid to help countries fighting the virus to buy critical medical equipment and to strengthen their health systems.

The world community, he said, has a “fighting chance” to contain the spread of the virus, but we “must not look back and regret that we failed to take advantage of the window of opportunity that we have now.”

Tedros, speaking to reporters in Geneva, said fresh cases in Iran show how the virus, which originated in China, is now moving not only to second countries, but to third countries in a lengthening chain of transmission.

“The cases that we see in the rest of the world, although the numbers are small, but not linked to Wuhan or China, it’s very worrisome,” Tedros said. “These dots are actually very concerning.”

There have been 76,787 confirmed cases of coronavirus and 2248 deaths worldwide, the vast majority of cases in mainland China. More than 1000 cases and 14 deaths have been confirmed elsewhere, from Japan to France.

South Korea reported 142 additional confirmed cases of the coronavirus, bringing the nation’s total to 346, according to Korea’s Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Iranian health authorities on Friday reported two more deaths from the coronavirus, bringing the total number of fatalities to four from 18 reported cases.

The semiofficial Mehr news agency quoted the spokesman of the health ministry, Kianoush Jahanpour, said the newly detected cases are all linked with city of Qom where the first two elderly patients died on Wednesday.

Minoo Mohraz, an Iranian health ministry official, said the virus “possibly came from Chinese workers who work in Qom and travelled to China.” She did not elaborate. A Chinese company has been building a solar power plant in Qom.

At the same time, Lebanon announced its first confirmed coronavirus case in the country from an individual who had apparently picked up the virus during a visit to Qom, according to Lebanese Health Minister Hammad Hassan said during a news conference Friday.

In Canada, a woman in her 30s was diagnosed with a mild case of the virus after a trip to Iran, prompting authorities to notify those who travelled with her on the same aircraft, according to health officials in British Columbia.

And in Italy, an elderly man in the northern city of Padua died after being infected with the coronavirus, becoming the first Italian victim of the disease, Health Minister Roberto Speranza says.

Two more residents have tested positive for coronavirus in the Lombardy region, in the wake of the first reported case of local transmission of the virus in the country, Reuters reported, bringing the total in the country to 16 cases.

The wife and a close friend of the initial patient, who had recently returned from China, were confirmed has having contracted the virus and were placed in quarantine.

China’s leaders say nation yet to turn corner in virus fight

As China once again shifts it methodology for counting coronavirus cases, China’s top leadership on Friday cautioned that the country had not yet turned the corner on halting the spread of the virus that has killed more than 2200 people.

“We should clearly see that the turning point of the development of the epidemic across the country hasn’t arrived yet,” the Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee said at a meeting led by President Xi Jinping and reported by state broadcaster CCTV.

The 25-member Politburo, made up of the senior officials of the ruling Communist Party, said the situation in Hubei province and its capital, Wuhan, where the outbreak erupted in December, remains grave.

The latest warning followed several days of official reports indicating a downward trend in newly reported cases. The data, however, has been muddied by another change in how the country’s health authorities count cases.

The Washington Post, USA Today, Reuters

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