Coronavirus Live Updates: South Korean Cases Spike, and Fear Builds


South Korea reported 229 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, doubling its total in a single day and adding to concerns that another Asian country is losing control of the spread and that the window to avert a pandemic was closing.

As of Saturday, the virus had spread to 28 countries. Some 1,500 cases have been confirmed outside China; multiple infections in the United States, Italy, Iran and the United Arab Emirates; and one in Egypt, the first to be confirmed on the African continent. The highest death toll outside of China is in Iran, with six as of Saturday.

Panic is spreading in Israel, where a woman, who was aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan tested positive after returning home, health officials said.

Many African countries are bracing for the disease. The World Health Organization has identified 13 as priorities because of their direct links to China or their high volume of travel to it.

South Korea added 229 new coronavirus cases on Saturday, driving its total to 433. Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun called the situation “grave.”

“We will deal sternly with any acts that interfere with the government’s quarantine efforts and add to anxiety among the people,” Mr. Chung said in a nationally televised statement. He urged citizens not to hoard facial masks or other hygiene products.

More than half of the cases are among members of a secretive religious sect, the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, and their relatives or contacts. Between Daegu, the country’s fourth largest city, and a nearby province where the sect’s members often do volunteer work, 352 people have tested positive.

More than 1,250 members of the sect have reported potential symptoms, and officials are still trying to locate 700 members so they can be screened.

The neighborhood around the sect’s church in Daegu has turned into a ghost town. Banks, coffee shops, restaurants and convenience stores have all shut down.

Across the city of 2.4 million, department stores, shopping alleys and outdoor marketplaces are drained of shoppers.

The only places more crowded than usual are government-run health centers, where citizens lined up to find out whether they were infected.

In Busan, South Korea’s second largest city, public libraries, a horse racetrack and facilities for senior citizens closed when the city reported its first coronavirus case on Friday.

Many churches have shuttered, instead offering prayer services online. Others stayed open, but skipped hymns or “Amens” to limit congregants’ exposure.

The national news agency Yonhap reported people emptying shelves of rice, instant noodle, eggs and other essential food items in some supermarkets in Chuncheon and Ulsan, as both cities reported their first cases on Saturday.

Samsung, the world’s smartphone maker, shut down a factory about an hour north of Cheongdo after a worker tested positive. The factory is expected to resume operations on Monday morning, Samsung said. But the floor of the factory where the patient has worked will be closed until Tuesday morning, it said.

The news that 14 American citizens from the Diamond Princess who had tested positive for the coronavirus were being flown to the United States this week surprised and infuriated President Trump, two senior American officials said.

  • Updated Feb. 10, 2020

    • What is a Coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crown-like spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people, and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is possibly transmitted through the air. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • How worried should I be?
      While the virus is a serious public health concern, the risk to most people outside China remains very low, and seasonal flu is a more immediate threat.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      World Health Organization officials have praised China’s aggressive response to the virus by closing transportation, schools and markets. This week, a team of experts from the W.H.O. arrived in Beijing to offer assistance.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The United States and Australia are temporarily denying entry to noncitizens who recently traveled to China and several airlines have canceled flights.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.

The Washington Post first reported Mr. Trump’s anger on Friday. The president is a self-declared “germophobe.”

Mr. Trump conveyed his anger to Alex M. Azar II, the health and human services secretary overseeing the White House interagency task force on the coronavirus, and other top officials. The task force’s top State Department official is Stephen E. Biegun, the deputy secretary of state.

One official said that Mr. Trump views keeping infected people from entering the country as critical to keeping the country safe and that the president wants to be seen as managing a proper response.

The decision to fly back the infected passengers was made over the objections of officials at the Centers for Disease Control.

On Monday, after two planes carrying more than 300 evacuated passengers had landed at military bases in Texas and California, William Walters, a top medical official at the State Department, told reporters that the decision to keep the 14 infected Americans in the group had been made by the State Department in consultation with Robert Kadlec, an assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services.

A team of experts from the World Health Organization were traveling on Saturday to the Chinese city of Wuhan, the center of the coronavirus epidemic, the agency’s director general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said.

Health professionals from the U.N. agency have worked on the outbreak in three Chinese provinces — Beijing, Sichuan and Guangdong — but had not yet been to the city at its heart.

Nine South Korean tourists who spent a week visiting some of Israel’s most popular religious sites have tested positive for the coronavirus after returning home. Within hours, Israel began closing the country to South Korean travelers altogether.

Korean passengers flying on a Korean Air flight scheduled to land at Ben Gurion Airport at 7:30 p.m. Saturday would be barred entry into the country, Ynet reported late Saturday afternoon. Kan radio said that, on Sunday, the government would discuss whether to allow the other South-Korea-to-Tel Aviv flights to continue.

Israel’s health ministry ordered the immediate suspension of all tours by South Korean tourists who are currently in Israel, according to Kan radio. Health officials were working with the tourism ministry and travel agencies to book flights back to South Korea for the 1,700 South Korea tourists in Israel.

Israel suspended all flights from China on Jan. 30 in response to the outbreak of coronavirus.

The nine South Korean tourists were among a Roman Catholic tour group of 77 people, Haaretz reported. The health ministry said the pilgrims visited Israel from Feb. 8 to Feb. 15, touring Christian sites and other attractions in Netanya, Caesaria, Nazareth, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea, Beersheva, Hebron and Jerusalem.

Among the often-crowded sites the group visited were the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem.

The health ministry said it was conducting an epidemiological investigation to identify anyone who came in contact with the group.

Twenty Israel Nature and Parks Authority employees and two Dead Sea hotel housekeeping employees who were in contact with the South Korea tourists have already been placed in quarantine, according to local reports.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has advised American passengers of the Westerdam cruise ship that they do not need to self-quarantine and are no longer subject to travel restrictions after their lives were upended when a fellow passenger was found to have the coronavirus.

No other infections have been found among passengers on the Westerdam, a C.D.C. spokesman said on Saturday, adding that the organization had sent an advisory to state and local health departments this past week.

An American woman, 83, who had disembarked from the Westerdam in Cambodia along with more than 2,000 other passengers and crew members, had tested positive for the coronavirus after arriving at the airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on a subsequent layover, Malaysian officials said on Feb. 15. Only a small number of passengers had been tested before they were allowed to disembark.

The American passenger’s diagnosis, which Malaysian officials said was confirmed in a second test, had raised fears that another vector of transmission was going global. Cambodia has called the Malaysian diagnosis flawed.

That no other Westerdam passengers have become ill is not proof in itself that the American woman’s diagnosis was flawed, said Dr. William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

But Dr. Schaffner said the C.D.C. has been “very meticulous about implementing a containment policy in the U.S. and has been assiduous about finding and monitoring people who’ve had contact or previous exposure.”

On Saturday, the Malaysian health director general, Noor Hisham Abdullah, said that the American passenger was now clear of the coronavirus and was being monitored in the hospital with a “slight cough,” after an antiretroviral treatment.

People who have recovered from the infection will test negative as their bodies clear the virus.

Cambodia’s prime minister, Hun Sen, who had personally welcomed the ship’s passengers after they had been turned away from several other ports, called Malaysia’s diagnosis into question again on Saturday. The woman never had coronavirus at all, he said.

Mr. Hun Sen is a close ally of China and his claims have cast doubts on the seriousness of the coronavirus outbreak.

Just days after releasing nearly 1,000 passengers from the cruise ship quarantined for two weeks in the port of Yokohama that has been a coronavirus hot spot, Japan’s health minister admitted that 23 passengers had been mistakenly cleared to leave without taking a valid recent test.

In a news briefing on Saturday night, the health minister, Katsunobu Kato, apologized for the error that allowed the passengers, who had not been tested since before the ship went into lockdown on Feb. 5, to leave the Diamond Princess.

The Japanese Health Ministry said it had tested them and checked for symptoms, and certified that they posed “no risk of infection.”

Mr. Kato said that all 23 mistakenly cleared passengers had boarded some form of public transportation after disembarking. He said none of them had reported any symptoms so far and 20 had already agreed to be retested, with three negative tests so far.

Although several governments that evacuated citizens from the ship — including those in the United States, Australia, Hong Kong and South Korea — confined them for an additional 14 days at home, Japan said that passengers who had tested negative for coronavirus and showed no symptoms could leave starting this week.

On the subject of the passengers released untested, Mr. Kato said that public health officers who had been conducting the tests missed the 23 passengers as they went door to door.

“While they made their multiple rounds to take samples, some passengers left their rooms to go outside and do exercise or something,” he said, “so they were unavailable.”

A total of 634 people tested positive on board the cruise ship, and two passengers infected with the coronavirus have died.

Reporting and research were contributed by Hannah Beech, Liz Alderman, Vivian Wang, Choe Sang-Hun, Elian Peltier, Donald G. McNeil Jr., Farnaz Fassihi, Amy Harmon, Steven Lee Myers, Elaine Yu, Marc Santora, Matt Philips, Niraj Chokshi, Amie Tsang, Keith Bradsher, Amber Wang, Yiwei Wang, Ed Wong, David Halbfinger and Derrick Bryson Taylor.


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