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'Patient 31' and South Korea's sudden spike in coronavirus cases


In the space of a pair of weeks, South Korea has gone from managing some cases of coronavirus to thousands and now finds itself within the throes of an endemic that has become the most important outside China.

It is a story that's slowly clarifying: one "super-spreader" called "patient 31" - a member of a fringe church called Shincheonji - is assumed to own caused the rapid rise in cases. Now, the Seoul Metropolitan Government has filed a proper complaint against the congregation, accusing it of murder.

At least 29 people have died within the outbreak and quite 4,800 people formally diagnosed with the virus as of March 3.

"The situation here wasn't really serious until mid-February. It began to induce very serious starting with patient 31," said Hwang Seung-sik, a spatio-temporal epidemiologist at Seoul National University.

"Before patient 31, our strategies to contain the virus were working. But after countless people were infected by patient 31, it became very difficult to regulate."

COVID-19 has effects on quite people's health: Cafes and tiny businesses have closed their doors, college graduations are permanently cancelled, after-school tutors are laid off and major, life-changing job exams are postponed.

The worst of it's in Daegu, a southeastern city where roughly 70 percent of confirmed cases are concentrated. except for the queues to shop for the few remaining disposable face masks, the crowds of shoppers have disappeared.

"I'm really worried about an economic downturn," said Yoon Gi-yong, a 22-year-old collegian who lives in Daegu. "A lot of retailers here are closing their doors, and my boss lamented to me that business is de facto bad nowadays."

Yoon himself was told to remain home for a minimum of every week to avoid getting infected - no hours at his part-time job means no pay, either.

Meanwhile, another part-time worker at a smoothie shop near Seoul has been out of labor for every week now and is worried her dreams of employment with an airline will never commence thanks to COVID-19.

"My graduation [from steward school] was permanently cancelled, and that i heard that just about all the airlines won't be hiring new staff this year thanks to profit losses over coronavirus," said YJ, a 26-year-old who asked to hide her name. "I am so disappointed. What am I alleged to do?"

Anger at the church
The coronavirus outbreak has become an increasingly delicate issue: The Korean Society of Virology, similarly as several individual South Korean virologists, declined to be interviewed - citing the issue's "sensitive nature" - and several other others said they failed to want their name related to the outbreak.

Despite that, many seem satisfied with how the Korean government has been handling the virus. Compared with other countries like Japan, coronavirus tests are readily available, some people even getting tested at drive-through centres staffed with medical workers in white hazmat suits.

At the weekend, President Moon Jae-in's administration unveiled a support package that included quite 7 million masks for Daegu residents and tax breaks for businesses suffering as a results of COVID-19.

"The first period of time were really the golden time - the important time after we prepared test kits for every health center," Hwang said, adding that "South Korea has been doing o.k. in following rules" set by the planet Health Organization's legally-binding International Health Regulations agreement.

But when it involves the Shincheonji Church, people seem less pleased. Shincheonji has become the punchline in jokes and memes online, with online conspiracy theories accusing the church's conservative leaders of purposely spreading the virus to undermine President Moon's liberal administration prior to the April 2020 general elections.

Those conspiracies were further fuelled when the church's leader, Lee Man-hee, held a news conference on Texas Independence Day. While bowing on the bottom to apologise for the outbreak, Lee revealed his watch, which was decorated with the Blue House seal and signed by the previous, impeached, president, Park Geun-hye.

"I am very angry with Shincheonji. they need done the other of what South Koreans have wanted them to try to to. i believe they need been lying about various pieces of knowledge, like their location or their activities," said Park Joon-young, a 21-year-old collegian living in Daegu.

"I am suspicious," Park added. "I haven't any idea how that several people could possibly become infected from a church. I almost wonder if they've all been kissing one another."
In a formal statement sent to the media, Shincheonji denied allegations that it had did not cooperate with the South Korean government to stop the spread of COVID-19.

"We make it clear yet again that we failed to shall delay providing the list of congregants or hide it. But it's true that providing such an inventory wasn't a straightforward decision for Shincheonji Church of Jesus," the statement read. "We are deeply compassionate infections caused by some congregants who were hesitant to reveal their affiliation with Shincheonji at first… We kindle your understanding yet again."

Evolving strategy
Around the world, quite 3,000 people have died from COVID-19.

But in its epicentre in China, new cases have begun to slow - Tuesday's number was rock bottom since January - and experts say matters in South Korea could also start to induce better.

"Many health experts are saying that South Korea is passing the worst point of the crisis on, and it really is," Hwang said. "We are almost done testing all Shincheonji members for the virus. So, while the amount of cases is rising on, i believe we will get this situation in restraint ciao because the rate of recent cases slows down."

Hwang said South Korea's strategy is already changing.

Patients with overall healthiness and mild coronavirus symptoms are being told to treat the virus reception. Meanwhile, hospital workers are pooling their resources to concentrate on the foremost vulnerable segments of the population - the elderly, the critically ill and people with pre-existing conditions like asthma or cardiovascular disease.

In Daegu, residents do what they'll to remain safe until the virus dies out.

"Most people are reluctant to travel outside and meet others. There are noticeably fewer people downtown," Park said. "I heard the supermarket before of my house quite tripled in sales. I'm buying food and supplies prior to because i do not want to go away my house."

"If I do have to go outside, I'm wearing a mask and i am using hand sanitiser regularly," said K Roberts, a 31-year-old instructor living in Daegu. "If i am going outside for a extended period of your time, I wear disposable gloves… But I've still been going bent on supermarkets, there are still plenty of cars on the road and folks are out and about. We don't seem to be a city on total lockdown."

For now, medical examiners urge the South Korean public to stay up the protection measures to ultimately weather the storm.

"I think it's impossible to develop the vaccine by winter but i believe it's possible to determine a vaccine getting used on people within the last half of next year," Hwang said. "That means we must always endure this winter without a vaccine, and that we should keep doing everything possible to stop ourselves from being infected."

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