‘It’s ruining everyone’: eerie quiet reigns in coronavirus-hit South Korean city – The Guardian

Sunday morning found Kim Tae-woo sitting in his convenience store at the normally bustling East Daegu train station, counting the day’s customers on the fingers of one hand.

“Things are beyond quiet here,” he said. “It feels like I’m at a meditation centre. I’m thinking of removing the magazine stand. No one has the peace of mind to flip through them now.”

South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, placed the country on red alert on Sunday as its number of coronavirus infections tripled over the weekend to 602.

Barring the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Japan, South Korea now has the highest number of infections outside China.

Residents of Daegu, the country’s fourth-largest city and the centre of its outbreak, are leaving nothing to chance.

The city’s streets were eerily quiet, with stores and restaurants closed and stations, markets and shopping areas devoid of the usual foot traffic. The few people who dared to venture out were masked and wearing gloves.

Quick guide

What is the coronavirus and should we be worried?

What is Covid-19 – the illness that started in Wuhan?

It is caused by a member of the coronavirus family that has never been encountered before. Like other coronaviruses, it has come from animals. Many of those initially infected either worked or frequently shopped in the Huanan seafood wholesale market in the centre of the Chinese city.

Have there been other coronaviruses?

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (Sars) and Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome (Mers) are both caused by coronaviruses that came from animals. In 2002, Sars spread virtually unchecked to 37 countries, causing global panic, infecting more than 8,000 people and killing more than 750. Mers appears to be less easily passed from human to human, but has greater lethality, killing 35% of about 2,500 people who have been infected.

What are the symptoms caused by the new coronavirus?

The virus can cause pneumonia. Those who have fallen ill are reported to suffer coughs, fever and breathing difficulties. In severe cases there can be organ failure. As this is viral pneumonia, antibiotics are of no use. The antiviral drugs we have against flu will not work. Recovery depends on the strength of the immune system. Many of those who have died were already in poor health.

Should I go to the doctor if I have a cough?

UK Chief Medical Officers are advising anyone who has travelled to the UK from mainland China, Thailand, Japan, Republic of Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia or Macau in the last 14 days and who is experiencing a cough or fever or shortness of breath to stay indoors and call NHS 111, even if symptoms are mild.

Is the virus being transmitted from one person to another?

China’s national health commission has confirmed human-to-human transmission, and there have been such transmissions elsewhere.

How many people have been affected?

As of 20 Februrary, China has recorded 2,118 deaths from the Covid-19 outbreak. Health officials have confirmed 74,576 cases in mainland China in total. More than 12,000 have recovered.

The coronavirus has spread to at least 28 other countries. Japan has 607 cases, including 542 from a cruise ship docked in Yokohama, and has recorded one death. There have also been deaths in Hong Kong, Taiwan, France and the Philippines.

There have been nine recorded cases and no fatalities to date in the UK. As of 17 February, a total of 4,501 people have been tested in the UK, of which 4,492 were confirmed negative.

Why is this worse than normal influenza, and how worried are the experts?

We don’t yet know how dangerous the new coronavirus is, and we won’t know until more data comes in. The mortality rate is around 2% at the centre of the outbreak, Hubei province, and less than that elsewhere. For comparison, seasonal flu typically has a mortality rate below 1% and is thought to cause about 400,000 deaths each year globally. Sars had a death rate of more than 10%.

Another key unknown is how contagious the coronavirus is. A crucial difference is that unlike flu, there is no vaccine for the new coronavirus, which means it is more difficult for vulnerable members of the population – elderly people or those with existing respiratory or immune problems – to protect themselves. Hand-washing and avoiding other people if you feel unwell are important. One sensible step is to get the flu vaccine, which will reduce the burden on health services if the outbreak turns into a wider epidemic.

Is the outbreak a pandemic?

A pandemic, in WHO terms, is “the worldwide spread of a disease”. Coronavirus cases have been confirmed outside China, but by no means in all 195 countries on the WHO’s list. It is also not spreading within those countries at the moment, except in a very few cases. By far the majority of cases are travellers who picked up the virus in China.

Should we panic?

No. The spread of the virus outside China is worrying but not an unexpected development. The WHO has declared the outbreak to be a public health emergency of international concern. The key issues are how transmissible this new coronavirus is between people, and what proportion become severely ill and end up in hospital. Often viruses that spread easily tend to have a milder impact. Generally, the coronavirus appears to be hitting older people hardest, with few cases in children.

Sarah BoseleyHannah Devlin and Martin Belam

More than half of all South Korean cases so far have been linked to the Daegu branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus sect, with over 100 more cases coming from a mental health ward at Daenam hopital in the nearby town of Cheongdo.

Officials believe cases at the hospital may be related to a funeral of the sect leader’s brother, held there at the beginning of February.

While the exact source of the infections remains unclear, health officials have pointed to a 61-year-old female member of the sect who tested positive on 18 February. Local authorities are now scrambling to trace all 9,336 members of the church’s Daegu branch as well as out of town visitors who may have come into contact with the woman.

A taxi driver, Kwang-ho Lee, wondered why the woman hadn’t done more to stop spreading the disease.

“It’s ruining everyone here,” he said. “I’m making less than 10% of my normal income. The other drivers and I are just standing around, waiting all day. Sometimes we’re even too scared to talk to each other because we don’t know who has the virus and who might belong to that cult.”

The Daegu branch of Shincheonji Church of Jesus, to which many of South Korea’s coronavirus infections are linked.

The Daegu branch of Shincheonji Church of Jesus, to which many of South Korea’s coronavirus infections are linked. Photograph: Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

There is widespread anger over the sect’s secretiveness and their apparent unwillingness to cooperate with health officials. According to the authorities, more than 600 members of the Daegu branch are not answering calls or texts and cannot be accounted for.

A petition demanding that the government forcibly disband the Shincheonji Church of Jesus was posted on the presidential office’s website on Friday, and has so far attracted more than 300,000 signatures.

The public fury directed at both the sect and the authorities was echoed by a bus driver, whose vehicle carried a single passenger.

“If I violate a traffic law, police contact me before the day is over and I get fined,” he said. “How come they can’t get hold of so many cult members? How can we say South Korea is an IT powerhouse with this going on?”

At Dongseung-ro, a popular meeting place for the city’s youth, things were quiet and most of the stores and cafes were closed.

Sung-jin Choi and Yoon Na, a couple in their twenties, had decided to go out, masked up and with gloves on.

“We saw on the internet that now is the time to experience this area looking like Gotham City, so we decided to have a look,” said Choi.

Workers spray disinfectant at a market in Daegu, South Korea on Sunday.

Workers spray disinfectant at a market in Daegu, South Korea on Sunday. Photograph: Im Hwa-young/AP

Na said that some couples were choosing not to meet up because no one is sure whether their partner belonged to the cult. “Only couples who know each other very well can be sure,” he added.

One of the few places in Daegu where more than 20 people had congregated on Sunday was at the city’s medical centre.

The hospital has become a dedicated Covid-19 treatment centre, with paramedics and nurses working in full biohazard suits and plastic face visors.

Some 30 people were waiting to be examined in a makeshift tent set up outside the main hospital building. Despite the constant activity by staffers, things were curiously quiet, the silence broken only by the comings and goings of ambulances and the odd cough.

On the other side of the city, the Shincheonji Church of Jesus building was locked up and the area, as with other parts of Daegu, was deserted.

Simon Kim, a spokesman for the church, said it was cooperating fully with authorities.

Q&A

How can I protect myself from the coronavirus outbreak?

The World Health Organization is recommending that people take simple precautions to reduce exposure to and transmission of the Wuhan coronavirus, for which there is no specific cure or vaccine.

The UN agency advises people to:

  • Frequently wash their hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or warm water and soap
  • Cover their mouth and nose with a flexed elbow or tissue when sneezing or coughing
  • Avoid close contact with anyone who has a fever or cough
  • Seek early medical help if they have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, and share their travel history with healthcare providers
  • Avoid direct, unprotected contact with live animals and surfaces in contact with animals when visiting live markets in affected areas
  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked animal products and exercise care when handling raw meat, milk or animal organs to avoid cross-contamination with uncooked foods.

Despite a surge in sales of face masks in the aftermath of the outbreak of the coronavirus outbreak, experts are divided over whether they can prevent transmission and infection. There is some evidence to suggest that masks can help prevent hand-to-mouth transmissions, given the large number of times people touch their faces. The consensus appears to be that wearing a mask can limit – but not eliminate – the risks, provided they are used correctly.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has advised UK nationals to leave China where possible. It is also warning that travellers from Hong Kong, Japan, Macau, Malaysia, Republic of Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand who develop symptoms of cough or fever or shortness of breath within 14 days of returning the UK should contact the NHS by phone.

Justin McCurry

“We’re the biggest victims of the Covid-19 epidemic,” he said, “[and we have] become a target of hatred”. He said a membership list the church had given the authorities had been leaked, provoking hate speech and members being pressured to leave their jobs.

Back at the train station, a group of five people sat around the communal TV set in the ticket hall. All turned out to be workers rather than travellers; given the lack of customers, there was little need for them to be behind their counters.

When one of them coughed, the others turned away from the screen to look at her.

“It’s not corona,” she said, with a wave of her hand. “My tea went down the wrong way.” No one looked relieved.

Source: https://news.google.com/__i/rss/rd/articles/CBMiamh0dHBzOi8vd3d3LnRoZWd1YXJkaWFuLmNvbS93b3JsZC8yMDIwL2ZlYi8yMy9pdHMtcnVpbmluZy1ldmVyeW9uZS1jb3JvbmF2aXJ1cy1oaXQtc291dGgta29yZWFuLWNpdHktZGFlZ3XSAWpodHRwczovL2FtcC50aGVndWFyZGlhbi5jb20vd29ybGQvMjAyMC9mZWIvMjMvaXRzLXJ1aW5pbmctZXZlcnlvbmUtY29yb25hdmlydXMtaGl0LXNvdXRoLWtvcmVhbi1jaXR5LWRhZWd1?oc=5

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