Feb 23, 2020 - Health

South Korea raises alert level to red as coronavirus cases exceed 600

 Hospital Staff carrying Covid19 suspect case blood sample at medical center in Daegu, South Korea

A hospital staff member carrying a suspected COVID-19 blood sample case to a medical center in Daegu, South Korea, on Sunday. Photo: Seung-il Ryu/NurPhoto via Getty Images

South Korean President Moon Jae-in raised the country's infectious disease alert level on Sunday to red, the highest possible, the New York Times reports, as the number of cases in the country jumped to 602 and the death toll to six.

Why it matters: South Korea now has more cases of COVID-19 than any country outside mainland China and only 32 fewer than the Diamond Princess cruise ship, the latest figures show.

  • The Korean Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention reported Saturday an eightfold increase in cases in four days. Most cases are in the southern cities of Daegu and Cheongdo, which authorities had just declared "special care zones" in the hope of stopping the spread of the virus, per the FT. But this did not happen.

Of note: More than half of those infected are connected to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a "secretive" religious sect, per The Guardian.

U.S. response: The State Department raised its travel advisory for South Korea on Saturday to level 2, recommending travelers exercise increased caution and prepare a contingency plan for emergency situations.

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