February 28, 2020 / 8:36 AM / a month ago

South Korea coronavirus cases surge to 2,337; BTS cancels gigs

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea reported 571 new coronavirus cases on Friday, its biggest daily increase in infections that takes its total to 2,337, the largest outbreak outside China where the epidemic began late last year.

Employees wearing masks to prevent the coronavirus walk at a Hyundai Motors factory in Ulsan, South Korea, February 28, 2020. Yonhap via REUTERS

The coronavirus crisis has spooked South Korea’s financial markets, led Hyundai Motor to shut down one of its plants and prompted boy band BTS to cancel its April concert.

The outbreak, which has killed 16 people in South Korea since its first patient was confirmed on Jan. 20, has also dented the popularity of President Moon Jae-in, a poll showed.

More than half of South Korea’s cases are linked to a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the southeastern city of Daegu and a hospital in Cheongdo county.

A 61-year-old woman, known as “Patient 31” attended religious services at the church before testing positive on Feb. 18., according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

The government circulated a list of about 310,000 Shincheonji members to local governments instructing that they all be checked for the virus, vice health minister Kim Gang-lip told a briefing.

As of Thursday, health authorities had contacted 110,000 of them, 1,638 of whom have shown symptoms and would be tested for the coronavirus, Kim said.

Daegu Mayor Kwon Young-jin said charges of criminal violation of the Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act would be brought against the church for refusing the release of a full list of its members.

The church later denied the accusation, saying it had provided full information and urged an end to “slander and oppression” against its followers.

“Please stop cursing and persecuting Shincheonji followers,” a spokesman for the church, Simon Kim, said in a video posted on the church’s website.

The church has faced criticism over a member who works as a public health official who continued to work even after authorities told him to get tested. He later turned out to be infected with the virus.

STOCKS, RATING LOWER

South Korean stock slumped on Friday. The benchmark index has seen its worst week since 2011, tracking a plunge in U.S. stocks.

Foreign investors offloaded as much as 2.8 trillion won ($2.3 billion) worth of stocks on the main board for the week, posting the biggest weekly foreign net outflow in nearly 9 years.

Hyundai Motor suspended production at one its factories in the southeastern city of Ulsan after a worker tested positive for the virus.

Its shares dropped more than 5% after the news, while the wider market was down 2.6%.

President Moon’s approval rating have dropped to their lowest since November, a poll showed on Friday, amid growing criticism of his government’s handling of the outbreak.

Realmeter, which surveyed some 1,500 people on Tuesday and Wednesday, said Moon’s popularity fell to 44.7%, down from about 50% before the country confirmed its first case of virus infection on Jan. 20.

South Korean boy band BTS cancelled concerts in Seoul scheduled for April in Seoul, said their label, Big Hit Entertainment.

Korean Air Lines said it would measure temperatures of all passengers for flights to the United States and turn away passengers whose temperature exceeds 37.5 Celsius (99.5 Fahrenheit).

A cabin crew member tested positive for virus this week.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in gets temperature tested upon his arrival at the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, February 28, 2020. Yonhap via REUTERS

South Korea’s neighbours have tightened up entry restrictions in response to the outbreak.

Vietnam suspended visa-free entry for South Korean, its embassy in Hanoi said, and travellers from South Korea will have to quarantine themselves upon entry.

India temporarily suspended visas on arrival for South Koreans and Japanese nationals on Wednesday, South Korea’s embassy in India said.

Reporting by Sangmi Cha and Hyonhee Shin; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Robert Birsel

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