South Korea registered 229 more cases of coronavirus Saturday, the sharpest rise in infections yet, with many new cases including patients being treated for mental health problems in the hospital.
The national toll of 433 is the highest outside of China apart from the cruise ship Diamond Princess, with the rise in hospital cases in the southern city of Cheongdo following a similar increase among members of a religious sect in Daegu’s nearby town.
A Samsung Electronics employee at a plant in Gumi, 200 kilometers (210 miles) southeast of Seoul, was among the new cases, prompting the tech giant to announce it would suspend operations there until Monday.
Meanwhile, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said 95 of the newly confirmed cases were “linked” to patients or staff at Cheongdo Daenam Hospital in Cheongdo.
“Most of the patients diagnosed at the hospital are those who stayed as mental illness hospitals,” Vice Minister of Health Kim Gang-lip told reporters.
Some cases show “no confirmed epidemiological connections,” meaning they’re not sure where or how the virus was contracted, he added.
On Saturday, authorities reported yet another death, taking the toll to two. Both victims had been hospital patients.
More than 200 members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus have now been compromised separately, beginning with a 61-year-old woman who attended at least four services at the Daegu branch of the church before being diagnosed.
KCDC stated that some 9,300 members of Shincheonji in Daegu were either quarantined at facilities or asked to stay home. Of those, 1,261 said they had symptoms, added health officials.
Daegu’s mayor— the fourth-biggest city in South Korea with a population of over 2.5 million— has advised local residents to stay indoors, while access to a major US military base in the area has been restricted.
One of the Shincheonji leaders in Daegu visited China— where the deadly virus was first discovered— in January, while it is suspected that three others had traveled to other countries, said KCDC director.
Shincheonji is often accused of being a cult and claims that on the day of judgment, his founder Lee gave Jesus Christ’s mantle and took 144,000 people with him to heaven.
But with more church members than places in heaven available, it is said they must compete for slots and persistently and secretly pursue converts.
On Friday President Moon Jae-in called for a “thorough investigation” of all those who attended the funeral services and Shincheonji.