South Korean virus cases jump, 1st US soldier infected

South Korean virus cases jump again, 1st US soldier infected

A woman wearing a mask to prevent contracting the coronavirus reacts as employees from a disinfection service company sanitize a traditional market in Seoul, South Korea. (Reuters Photo)

The number of new virus infections in South Korea jumped again Wednesday and the U.S. military reported its first case among its soldiers based in the Asian country, with his case and many others connected to a southeastern city with an illness cluster.

South Korea's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 134 of the 169 new cases were confirmed in Daegu, where the government has been mobilizing public health tools to contain the virus.

Another 19 cases were in neighboring North Gyeongsang province towns.

A US military statement said the 23-year-old soldier was in self-quarantine at his off-base residence. He had been based in Camp Carroll in a town near Daegu, and visited both Carroll and nearby Camp Walker in recent days, according to the statement.

South Korean authorities and US military health professionals were tracing his contacts to determine if other people may have been exposed.

About 28,500 US troops are stationed in South Korea as deterrence against potential aggression from North Korea.

United States Forces Korea previously said a widowed dependent had the virus, the first case involving a USFK-related individual. South Korea's 600,000-member military has reported 18 cases and placed thousands of soldiers in quarantine as a precaution.

Col. Edward Ballanco, commander of the U.S. Army Garrison Daegu, said two bowling alleys at Camp Walker and Camp Carroll and a golf course at Camp Walker were closed after the soldier's case was confirmed.

All restaurants at the bases, and also Camp Henry and Camp George in Daegu, could now provide only takeout meals with soldiers and family members prohibited from dining there, he said.

South Korea now has 1,146 confirmed infections of the virus and 11 fatalities from the COVID-19 illness it causes.

The national government has been channeling medical personnel, protective suits and other supplies to Daegu, and there are concerns the local hospitals are being overwhelmed and fatigued doctors are becoming vulnerable to infections.

“This week will be critical in the fight to combat the (COVI-19) illness,” Prime Minister Chung Se-kyun said at meeting in Daegu City Hall to discuss quarantine efforts.

The number of cases were expected to rise as health workers finish testing hundreds of members of the Daegu branch of a church that has the country's biggest cluster of infections.

The Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which mainstream Christian organizations describe as a cult, agreed to hand over a list of 200,000 members nationwide so screenings could widen.

China, by far, still has the most cases and deaths from the illness, though its numbers have slowed recently.

Chinese officials Wednesday reported another 406 cases and 52 additional deaths, all of them in hard-hit Hubei province and all but 10 in the epicenter of the city of Wuhan.

China has recorded 2,715 deaths from COVID-19 and 78,064 confirmed cases of the virus on the mainland since the illness emerged in December.

China has put Wuhan and nearby cities under virtual quarantine for weeks, halting nearly all movement except for disease prevention, health care and supplying necessities.

It has sent thousands of personnel to build and staff virus-dedicated hospitals in the epicenter region. In the capital Beijing and throughout the country, public events were canceled and factories, offices and schools closed.

Chinese banks have been ordered to disinfect old banknotes before reissuing them to the public. State broadcaster CCTV showed staff of a state-owned bank in Shanghai putting old banknotes under ultraviolet disinfection and putting them into a vault.

The bank told CCTV money removed from high-risk sites such as hospitals and markets would not be returned to circulation. Other banknotes will be disinfected and sealed for at least 7 days before being recirculated, the bank said.

While the response efforts to the disease have long focused on China and its neighbors, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention earlier called for Americans to be prepared for the illness to spread there.

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