Korean health authorities Thursday confirmed an additional 53 cases of the novel coronavirus, bringing the total to 104 cases, with a bulk of the spread thought to come from a single person, the 31st patient, in a religious cult.
In addition to the 53 new cases, Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) confirmed the country’s first related death in Cheongdo County, a county in North Gyeongsang Province. The 63-year old male had a mental illness and had been receiving in-patient care for the past 20 years without having outside human contact.
The patient died from pneumonia-related symptoms Wednesday. A COVID-19 infection was confirmed post mortem in a diagnostic test.
Two people in the mental ward have also been infected, spurring health officials to conduct an epidemiological investigation on the 120 people at the ward.
Local authorities are now looking into whether the 31st patient, a 61-year old Korean female thought to be a superspreader, had visited the mental hospital in Cheongdo County.
Most of the confirmed new coronavirus, or COVID-19, cases are from Daegu-Gyeongbuk Province, where the 31st patient had spread the disease to at least 20 people in the same cult. About 33 cases of the 104 confirmed COVID-19 are currently linked the cult.
The members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, founded by a South Korean man named Lee Man-hee, came under fire for its lack of transparency and irresponsibility. The sect received criticism mostly because the 31st patient had booked a heavy schedule filled with service and meetings despite having symptoms.
She had reportedly declined to take a test for the COVID-19 despite doctor recommendations when she displayed symptoms.
The religious sect also came under fire for ordering its members to lie about attending service with the 31st patient in a mass text message.
The widespread activities of the 31st patient are thought to have exploded the number of cases in Daegu, with a total of 70 confirmed cases in the Daegu-Gyeongbuk Province alone.
The rest are in Seoul (15 cases), Gyeonggi Province (13 cases), Jeollabuk-do (1 case), Gwangju (2 cases), and Jeollanam-do (1 case). Two Wuhan locals have also been confirmed to have been infected in the country.
The explosive rise in the COVID-19 cases in the country comes as the number of COVID-19 cases climbed to a record high of 75,600 cases, 16,326 recoveries, and 2,126 deaths globally, with most infections and deaths traced to China.