SEOUL: Some members of a church at the centre of South Korea's coronavirus outbreak visited the Chinese city of Wuhan in January, where the disease is believed to have originated, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on Sunday (Mar 1).
Most of the South Korean patients were traced to a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the southeastern city of Daegu. The church had a presence in Wuhan.
Kwon Jun-wook, a KCDC official, confirmed for the first time that some members of the church visited Wuhan during a briefing.
He said it was unclear how many went there and whether the trip played a role in the outbreak.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in said on Sunday the government was waging "all-out responses" to contain the novel coronavirus as the country reported 376 new cases, taking the total to 3,526.
The world's 12th largest economy has the highest national total in the world outside China, after it saw a rapid surge in the number of coronavirus cases in recent days.
Nearly 90 per cent of the cases were in Daegu and its neighbouring North Gyeongsang province, KCDC said in a statement. The country's death toll remains at 17.
The national total is expected to rise further as authorities screen more than 260,000 members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a secretive entity often accused of being a cult that is linked to around half of the country's cases.
A 61-year-old female member developed a fever on Feb 10, but attended at least four church services in Daegu - the country's fourth-largest city with a population of 2.5 million - before being diagnosed.
"The government is now waging all-out responses after raising the crisis alert to the highest level," Moon said at a ceremony marking Independence Movement Day, scaled down due to the outbreak.
"We will be able to overcome the COVID-19 outbreak and revive our shrunken economy," he added.
Scores of events have been cancelled or postponed over the virus, including concerts by K-pop superstars BTS and the World Team Table Tennis Championships, while more than 70 countries raised their travel restrictions against South Korea.
Auto giant Hyundai Motor also suspended operations at one of its Ulsan plants after an employee tested positive for the coronavirus.
The new school term start has been delayed one week nationwide and three weeks in Daegu, while the US and South Korean militaries have postponed forthcoming joint exercises.