SEOUL: South Korea declared a "special care zone" on Thursday (Mar 5) around a second city hit hard by the coronavirus and the US military confirmed two new cases among relatives of its troops in the country.
South Korea reported 760 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, bringing it to a total of 6,088 in the country - the highest outside of China.
The Korea Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention also reported eight more deaths from the disease, bringing the total to 40.
The country's government declared a "special care zone" around Gyeongsan, a city of about 275,000 people 250km southeast of Seoul, promising extra resources such as face masks and warning people from travelling there.
Gyeongsan has seen a spike in new cases, including at a nursing home. Similar zones have been declared around neighbouring Daegu city and Cheongdo County.
The majority of all cases in South Korea are in and around Daegu, the country's fourth-largest city, where the flu-like virus that emerged from China late last year has spread rapidly through members of a religious group.
"Every day is sad and tough like a war. But our Daegu citizens are showing surprise wisdom and courage," Daegu Mayor Kwon Young-jin told reporters on Thursday.
Officials said hospitals in the hardest-hit areas were struggling to accommodate new patients. Daegu city officials said 2,117 patients were waiting for rooms in the city.
Dozens of newly commissioned military nurses are due to begin work in Daegu on Thursday, the health ministry said.
NEW US FORCES KOREA CASES
US Forces Korea (USFK) reported two new cases, for a total of six cases in soldiers, employees or people related to the roughly 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea.
Despite the new cases, USFK had resumed sending troops to bases in Daegu and surrounding areas, according to military newspaper Stars and Stripes.
Commanders believed the bases were protected from the outside population, and that the troop rotations were needed to maintain readiness in the face of continued threats from nuclear-armed North Korea, the newspaper reported.
Australia's latest move to ban the arrival of foreigners from South Korea is a blow to Seoul's efforts to prevent the United States from imposing such restrictions.
South Korean officials met the US ambassador in Seoul on Wednesday to urge the United States not to limit travel.
According to the US State Department, anyone with a fever of 38 degrees Celsius is already banned from boarding direct flights from South Korea to the United States.
Korean Air Lines said on Thursday it would screen all passengers departing Incheon airport for high temperatures and reject those deemed a risk.
Health officials expect the number of new cases to be high for the near future as they complete the testing of more than 200,000 members of a fringe Christian group, as well as thousands of other suspected cases from smaller clusters.
At least 92 countries, including Singapore, have imposed some form of entry restrictions on arrivals from South Korea, according to Yonhap news agency. Australia was the latest country to impose a ban on travellers arriving from South Korea.
COVID-19 is the illness caused by the coronavirus which emerged from China late last year to spread around the world. China reported 31 more deaths on Thursday, taking the country's overall toll past 3,000, with the number of new infections slightly increasing.
China's National Health Commission also reported 139 new cases on Thursday, slightly up from 119 the previous day, raising the overall number of confirmed infections to 80,409.