Updated at 2 p.m. ET
The number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in South Korea has doubled in just 24 hours, to 104 from 51, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Thursday. Many of the new cases of coronavirus are linked to a Christian sect in Daegu, a city in southern South Korea.
Korea’s CDC says a woman who became the country’s 31st confirmed patient on Feb. 18 had attended services held by a religious group called the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, The Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony.
The woman, who was born in 1959, had visited Wuhan, China — where the novel coronavirus was first discovered in December — the KCDC says. It adds that she was reported to have 1,160 contacts – by far the most of anyone on its list of patients.
“The church has shut down” because of the outbreak, NPR’s Anthony Kuhn reports from Seoul. “Daegu has closed some public facilities,” he adds. “A U.S. Army garrison in Daegu restricted travel in and out of the base and imposed a quarantine on personnel who had visited the church.”
In a message posted online, the Shincheonji church expressed deep regret over the coronavirus cases. It also said it’s cooperating with authorities and is spending several days sterilizing its buildings in Daegu.
The same woman who attended the church also visited Cheongdo Daenam Hospital, which has emerged as a second cluster of infections. Patients and staff there are being tested for the respiratory virus, and the hospital is being disinfected, according to the KCDC.
South Korea is also reporting its first coronavirus-related death — and the patient was from the Cheongdo Daenam Hospital cluster. While the 63-year-old man had tested positive for the virus, the exact cause of death was still being investigated, the KCDC says.
More than 75,000 COVID-19 cases have been confirmed worldwide, according to a disease-tracking dashboard created by the Johns Hopkins Whiting School of Engineering.
The virus has killed more than 2,000 people — most of them in China’s Hubei province, the center of the outbreak. Globally, nearly 17,000 people had recovered from the illness as of Thursday afternoon ET.
2 Diamond Princess passengers die after contracting COVID-19
Two Japanese passengers who had been on the quarantined Diamond Princess cruise ship have died after being infected with the novel coronavirus. Japan’s health ministry says the male and female passengers were hospitalized last week. They were both in their 80s.
The man and woman are the first Diamond Princess passengers to die during the virus outbreak. The cruise ship has been under a quarantine at Yokohama’s port near Tokyo since Feb. 3.
Both of the passengers died about a week after tests confirmed they were infected with the respiratory virus. The male passenger was from Kanagawa prefecture and the female passenger was from Tokyo, the health ministry said. It added that while the man died from COVID-19, the woman died from pneumonia.
A total of 634 people from the Diamond Princess have tested positive for COVID-19, the Japanese agency said. More than half that number are identified as “asymptomatic pathogen carriers,” meaning that while they don’t show signs of the illness, they can still transmit the disease to others or become sick themselves.
The deaths were reported as the shipwide 14-day quarantine expires and as the governments of Hong Kong, Australia, Israel, Canada and other countries work to repatriate their citizens. Like the Americans who recently arrived in the U.S., those passengers face new quarantines back home.
When passengers test positive for the novel coronavirus, they’re taken off the Diamond Princess and sent to local hospitals. Those diagnoses also reset the 14-day quarantine period for their traveling partners and close contacts.
About 3,700 passengers and crew were aboard the ship when it initially arrived at the Yokohama terminal. That number is now dropping by the hundreds