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South Korea reports first COVID-19 death; cases rise to 104

South Korea's first death from the coronavirus was reported on Thursday at a hospital in the  city of Cheongdo, near Daegu. Photo by Yonhap
South Korea's first death from the coronavirus was reported on Thursday at a hospital in the  city of Cheongdo, near Daegu. Photo by Yonhap

SEOUL, Feb. 20 (UPI) -- South Korean officials reported the nation's first coronavirus death on Thursday and 53 new cases in a single day, bringing the total number of cases to 104.

Of the new COVID-19 cases, 51 are concentrated in the city of Daegu and the surrounding Gyeongbuk province, the Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention said in briefings. The remaining two cases are in Seoul.

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Daegu, South Korea's fourth-largest city, is located some 185 miles southeast of Seoul and has a population of 2.5 million.

Many of the cases in Daegu have been linked to a 61-year-old woman, who was confirmed as South Korea's 31st patient on Tuesday, the KCDC said. She is believed to have infected some 40 other patients through attending services at the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a new religious movement that claims more than 200,000 members worldwide, before testing positive for the virus.

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Authorities are investigating whether the woman is connected to two confirmed cases at a hospital in Cheongdo, a city south of Daegu. The patient visited Cheongdo earlier this month, officials said.

South Korea's first COVID-19 death, a 63-year-old man, was treated at the hospital in Cheongdo and authorities are working to confirm the cause.

COVID-19, which has killed more than 2,100 people worldwide and has spread to more than two dozen countries since it emerged in China early December, has begun spreading locally, Vice Health and Welfare Minister Kim Kang-lip told reporters on Thursday.

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"At this stage, [the government] judged that COVID-19 is spreading locally with a limited scope," he said, according to South Korean news agency Yonhap.

Kim said health authorities will deploy 24 more doctors to Daegu and expand the city's virus-detection centers to 22.

Daegu has begun taking emergency measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus, including shutting down kindergartens and considering delaying the start of the upcoming semester at elementary and high schools.

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Officials postponed the 2020 Daegu Super Concert featuring boy band BTS, which was scheduled to be held at Daegu Stadium on March 8.

Daegu Mayor Kwon Young-jin has asked the central government for help and made a televised appeal Thursday urging residents of Daegu to stay indoors.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in spoke with the mayor by phone Thursday and vowed to offer any assistance necessary, according to a spokesman for the presidential Blue House.

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