South Korea to test 200,000 church members as pandemic fears hit markets

(Theguardian) – South Korea has stepped up its “maximum measures” to contain the coronavirus with plans to test around 200,000 members of a secretive church believed to be at the centre of the country’s outbreak.

Along with an emergency budget and a crackdown on the hoarding of face masks, the government in Seoul will test members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus after its founder agreed to provide authorities with the names of all its members in the country.

It came as financial markets saw more heavy losses across Asia Pacific on Tuesday over fears the coronavirus was spreading more widely from China and will cause disruption in countries such as South Korea, the world’s 12th biggest economy.

In Japan, a fourth person from the Diamond Princess cruise ship died and the country’s education minister said schools with reported coronavirus cases should be temporarily closed. Koichi Hagiuda told reporters on Tuesday that education boards of Hokkaido in northern Japan and Chiba City near Tokyo have been told to take this preventive measure, NHK says.

In China, where 71 new deaths and 508 new cases were reported on Tuesday, health officials said strict control and prevention measures would remain in place in Hubei province, the epicentre of the global outbreak. The national health commission added it would also strictly control the outbound movement of people in Wuhan and other cities in Hubei province with existing traffic controls.

At Tianjin University, near Beijing, scientists said they had developed an oral vaccine for Covid-19. The professor who led the project, Huang Jinhai, said the vaccine could also serve as a potential therapy for infected patients. Chinese state media said the university was looking for partners to run clinical trials.

In Italy, authorities announced the first case in the south of the country. A woman from Bergamo, who was on holiday with her friends in Sicily, tested positive for Convid-19. She is not in a serious condition.

Her husband and friends have been quarantined for at least the next 15 days as Italian authorities scramble to contain the worst outbreak of the virus in Europe and the third worst in the world.

The number of confirmed cases in the country has risen to over 220, with seven deaths. All those who have died had underlying health problems.

South Korea reported 60 new cases on Tuesday, with 16 of them in the south-eastern city of Daegu, where the Shincheonji church is located, and 33 were from the surrounding North Gyeongsang province, Korea’s centre for disease control said.

The country now has more than 977 cases, the biggest number outside China. Ten people have died there.

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