South Korean president declares 'war' on COVID-19 as deaths there reach 32

More than 5,000 cases have been confirmed in the country.

March 3, 2020, 8:45 PM

SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korean President Moon Jae-in has declared "war" on the novel coronavirus after the country has recorded more than 5,000 confirmed cases and more than 30 deaths.

At least 136,000 people have been tested, and 32 have died from COVID-19, according to the most recent data available from the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Based on testing, 5,328 people have been confirmed to have the virus.

"The crisis in Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province reached its peak, and the whole country has entered a war against the infectious disease," Moon said during a meeting with senior officials tasked with handling the virus.

Moon ordered all government organizations to switch to "24-hour emergency situation room system" and emphasized the importance of each ministry to strengthen its emergency response posture regarding quarantine measures.

Moon also apologized to the public over the government's handling of face masks.

PHOTO: People wait in a line to buy face masks at a retail store in the southeastern city of Daegu on February 25, 2020.
People wait in a line to buy face masks at a retail store in the southeastern city of Daegu on February 25, 2020.
Jung Yeon-je/AFP via Getty Images

"I apologize for the inconvenience caused by the insufficient and slow supply of masks," Moon said.

Domestic demand for face masks shot up as the virus spread, and many citizens complained that they quickly sold out.

The government on Thursday began restricting exports of face masks to less than 10% of those produced and required that manufacturers supply more than half of the masks made to government-designated sellers. Citizens were frustrated by dwindling supplies and slow distribution methods, with many people forced to stand in long lines at post offices, pharmacies and government-run retail stores.

A lack of hospital beds also has been of growing concern. Patients with mild symptoms are to be quarantined in facilities that can provide isolated rooms so that there's adequate space for patients in critical condition, according to the KCDC.

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