"The situation is entering a new phase," Vice Health and Welfare Minister Kim Kang-lip told reporters. But the high number of confirmed cases is also because the country’s medical industry has high diagnostic capability, according to experts.
The current period is still "early stage" and the government is cautiously confident that the spread of the novel coronavirus could be contained surrounding the Daegu area, Kim added.
Daegu, South Korea’s fourth-largest city, has been designated a "special management zone" along with Daenam Hospital in nearby Cheongdo County where two deaths have been reported. The central government is channeling medical support to the zone with more staff, hospital beds and equipment.
Eighty percent of the confirmed have been linked to Daenam Hospital and to a religious sect in the Daegu area. Health authorities are scrambling to test 9,300 members of Shincheonji Church of Jesus who have reportedly spent time in close contact with each other during services and gatherings in the past two weeks. Over 1,200 of them self-reported suspicious symptoms.
All medical staff and patients at Daenam Hospital are also undergoing tests. Of particular concern is the hospital's psychiatric ward, which operates as an enclosed facility. Almost all of the confirmed coronavirus cases were among patients in the psychiatric ward.
Authorities reported 111 total confirmed -- 102 patients and 9 medical staff. The rapid pace of infection is presumably because of frequent contact in a small space, Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention Director Jung Eun-kyeong explained at a press briefing.