161 more coronavirus cases were reported on Monday in South Korea, increasing the global total to 763 making it the world’s biggest total outside China.
The nation has seen a dramatic increase in the number of cases of coronavirus that include more than 700 cases in less than a week since a cluster of infections in the southern city of Daegu emerged from a religious sect.
Most of the country’s cases are linked with the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu’s southern city, including 129 confirmations from Monday, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in a statement.
Two more people had died, which were both linked to a second cluster around a Cheongdo hospital, bringing the toll down to seven.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in raised the country’s virus alert to the highest level of “red” on Sunday, in an effort to reinforce government response to the spiraling outbreak.
The government has increased kindergarten and school holidays nationwide by one week, and aims to introduce stricter two-week monitoring of Chinese arrivals.
The outbreak forced South Korean tech giant Samsung Electronics to suspend operations at its smartphone plant in Gumi, 200 kilometers (125 miles) southeast of Seoul, following a weekend infection of one of its employees.
The Gumi plant produces high-end domestic products including the latest Galaxy S20 and luxury Galaxy Z Flip models by Samsung.
Before being identified, the Shincheonji cluster started with a 61-year-old woman who got a fever on February 10 and visited at least four services in Daegu — the fourth-biggest city in South Korea, with a population of 2,5 million.
Daegu mayor Kwon Young-jin said that Shincheonji was related to 85 percent of the 292 cases in the area.
Authorities say that some 9,300 leaders of the Shincheonji in Daegu have either been quarantined or asked to stay at home, but hundreds have yet to be reached.
Shincheonji is also accused of being a cult. He believes that his creator wore Jesus Christ’s robe and brought 144,000 people to heaven on the day of judgment.
But they’re said to have to fight for slots and attract converts with more church members than positions in heaven that are open.
Shincheonji apologized for “causing concern” in a video statement read out by her spokesman on Sunday, but insisted that she cooperated with health authorities for the “early cessation” of the situation.
The spokesman dismissed public criticism blaming his church for the spike in the number of infections, adding that the virus had originated in China.
“Please be aware that the Shincheonji Church of Jesus and its members are the biggest victims of the COVID-19,” he said.