Church link leads to zombie apocalypse fear in Korean city

Top News | 21 Feb 2020

Residents of a South Korean city at the center of a coronavirus outbreak have described empty streets, deserted shops and a climate of fear as a surge in confirmed cases linked to a church raises the prospect of wider transmission.

Malls, restaurants and streets in Daegu, the country's fourth-largest city with a population of 2.5 million, were largely empty in scenes that residents and social media users likened to a disaster movie.

"It's like someone dropped a bomb in the middle of the city - it looks like a zombie apocalypse," said Kim Geun Woo, a 28-year-old resident. He had tried to buy surgical masks but shops were sold out.

Korea's Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reported 53 new cases of the virus yesterday, following 20 on Wednesday, taking the total across the country to 104.

Seventy patients are from Daegu or nearby and the majority have been traced to an infected 61-year-old woman known as "Patient 31" who attended a church, a scenario that the center described as a "super-spreading event."

South Korea also reported the first death of a virus patient, though the man's exact cause of death was being investigated. The man was among 13 people at a hospital near Daegu who tested positive for the virus.

Health officials said they were investigating whether there were links between the outbreak at the church and the hospital.

The hospital would be temporarily shut down and about 600 staff and patients would be tested.

Several major department stores, including at least one in Seoul, were closed after reports that Patient 31 had visited in recent weeks.

Daegu mayor Kwon Young Jin told residents to stay indoors as he warned of likely further cases.

Kwon said at least 90 more of the about 1,000 other people who attended services at the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony also showed symptoms.

Daegu authorities ordered the shutdown of all kindergartens, while all schools will postpone the beginning of the spring semester scheduled for early March by one week in an unprecedented move.

The Defense Ministry banned troops stationed in Daegu from leaving their barracks and receiving guests, while a soldier who had recently visited his home in Daegu tested positive for the virus.

The US military imposed similar restrictions on its army base in the city.

The church is a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, founded in 1984 by South Korean Lee Man Hee, who has about 500,000 followers. Shincheonji said it had closed its Daegu church and instructed that services be held online or at home.


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