Coronavirus: Nearly 500 new cases send South Korea's total past 4,000, death toll rises to 22

Workers sanitise a street in front of a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu, South Korea, on Feb 19, 2020. PHOTO: REUTERS

SEOUL (AFP) - South Korea reported nearly 500 new coronavirus cases on Monday (March 2), sending the largest national total in the world outside China past 4,000.

Four more people had died, the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said, taking the toll to 22.

Meanwhile, the religious movement at the centre of the outbreak in the country said its founder had tested negative for Covid-19, Yonhap reported.

Mr Lee Man-hee, founder and leader of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, underwent the test last Saturday, the church said, without elaborating on where and how he received the examination.

Mr Lee has been in self-quarantine in his home in Gyeonggi, near Seoul.

Infection numbers have surged in the world's 12th-largest economy in recent days and the country's central bank warned of negative growth in the first quarter, noting the epidemic will hit both consumption and exports, while scores of events have been cancelled or postponed over the contagion.

South Korea's health authorities say some 60 per cent of the country's coronavirus cases are likely to be related to the Shincheonji sect.

The national figures are expected to rise further as the authorities carry out checks on more than 260,000 people associated with the religious group.

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 and the centre of the outbreak - before being diagnosed.

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Of the 476 new cases announced on Monday - taking the total to 4,212 - more than 90 per cent were in Daegu and the neighbouring province of North Gyeongsang, the KCDC said.

The global death toll from the spread of the coronavirus on Monday topped 3,000, infecting more than 65 nations.

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