SEOUL, South Korea – South Korea on Friday declared the southeast city of Daegu and the surrounding region a “special management zone” after a surge in virus cases that city officials say threaten to overwhelm the region’s health system.
Prime Minister Chung Se-kyun said the national government will concentrate its support to the region to ease a shortage in sickbeds, medical personnel and equipment.
“A month into the [COVID-19] outbreak, we have entered an emergency phase,” Chung said. “Our efforts until now had been focused on blocking the illness from entering the country. But we will now shift the focus on preventing the illness from spreading further in local communities.”
Sixty-nine cases of COVID-19, as well as the country’s first death of a virus patient, have been confirmed in the southeast city of Daegu and nearby areas over Wednesday and Thursday, a sudden jump that raised fears that the outbreak is getting out of control.
The surge of infections in the Daegu area and several cases in the capital, Seoul, where infection routes weren’t immediately traceable, forced government officials to acknowledge Thursday for the first time that the virus has begun to circulate in the local population.
Daegu Mayor Kwon Young-jin on Thursday urged the city’s 2.5 million people to stay home and wear masks even indoors if possible.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said a South Korean man, believed to be about
63 years old, died at a hospital near the city Wednesday and posthumously tested positive for the virus.
South Korea has so far reported
104 cases of the illness that began in China, where more than 2,000 patients have died.