February 23 coronavirus news

By James Griffiths, Jenni Marsh and Tara John, CNN

Updated 0308 GMT (1108 HKT) February 24, 2020
25 Posts
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6:18 a.m. ET, February 23, 2020

"Like a 19th century witch-hunt," says Shincheonji religious group member over coronavirus criticism

From CNN's Ivan Watson in Seoul

Picture of the shuttered building in the Dongdaemun neighborhood of Seoul.
Picture of the shuttered building in the Dongdaemun neighborhood of Seoul. Ivan Watson/CNN

The South Korean religious group at the center of a dramatic spike in coronavirus cases in the country has rejected a storm of criticism over the outbreak.

Roughly half of the more than 600 cases in South Korea are associated with the controversial religious group, leading to 9,300 Shincheonji members being put into self-isolation.

Outside a shuttered building in Seoul that houses offices and places of worship for Shincheonji, a shopkeeper called the group "heretics" in an interview with CNN.

But Kim So-il, a project director at Shincheonji, defended the group, saying it was in "great difficulty" right now.

“It’s unfair that all people rebuke Shincheonji,” he told CNN. “It’s like a 19th century witch-hunt.”

That was the view reflected by a Shincheonji spokesperson in a televised press conference Sunday, who said the religious group's members are the "biggest victims'" of the coronavirus outbreak in South Korea.

"COVID-19 is a disease that originated in China and spread to South Korea," the spokesperson said.

"We are sincerely urging everyone recognize that the Shincheonji Church and its devotees are the biggest victims of COVID-19, and refrain from hate and groundless attack."

The Shincheonji is centered around the personality of its founder and chairman, Lee Man-hee. On a website believed to be the group's official homepage, the group heavily suggests that Lee is the "Promised Pastor" mentioned in the Bible. The passage it highlights suggests that the Promised Pastor is the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Members of the group congregate in a way that puts them in close contact with one another for long periods of time.

Jung Eun-Kyeong, director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said at a press briefing on Friday: "(We are) seeing that there is a possibility that the characteristics of many people sitting close together in a very confined space and holding service for more than an hour ... (could have led to) a few who were exposed infecting many (other) infectees."

The group has said that it "deeply regrets" the outbreak which occurred in their branch in the southern city of Daegu.

Read more about the group here

5:25 a.m. ET, February 23, 2020

Hong Kong confirms five additional coronavirus cases, bringing total to 74

From Alex Lin and Isaac Yee in Hong Kong.

Hong Kong health officials confirmed five additional cases of the novel coronavirus on Sunday, bringing the city-wide total to 74.

One of the newly discovered cases is a 68-year-old male who was evacuated from the Diamond Princess cruise ship earlier this week, Dr Chuang Shuk-Kwan from the Center for Health Protection said at a press conference.

As of February 23, 12 patients have successfully been treated and discharged from hospital. 

5:18 a.m. ET, February 23, 2020

Coronavirus cases in Italy rise to more than 100

From CNN’s Livia Borghese in Rome 

Hospital personnel in Codogno, Italy, carry new beds inside the hospital on Friday, February 21. The hospital is hosting some people who have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus.
Hospital personnel in Codogno, Italy, carry new beds inside the hospital on Friday, February 21. The hospital is hosting some people who have been diagnosed with the novel coronavirus. Luca Bruno/AP

The number of coronavirus cases in Italy has surpassed 100, after 44 new cases were confirmed on Sunday, according to authorities.

Most of the cases are focused in the northern regions of Lombardy (which has 89 cases), Veneto, Emilia Romagna and Piedmont.

Health officials are expected to hold a press conference on Sunday to update the public with the total numbers for the country.

4:58 a.m. ET, February 23, 2020

South Korea extends school holiday for a week

From CNN’s Jake Kwon in Seoul.

The winter vacation for South Korean kindergarten, elementary, middle and high schools has been extended for a week, the country's education ministry said Sunday, after coronavirus cases there surged past 600.

Instead of March 2, schools will now open on March 9.

4:41 a.m. ET, February 23, 2020

Judge blocks transfer of coronavirus patients to city in Southern California

From CNN's Faith Karimi in Atlanta

Travis Air Force Base
Travis Air Force Base Hector Amezcua/AP

A federal judge has temporarily blocked the transfer of people infected with the coronavirus to a city in Southern California until a hearing set for this week.

Costa Mesa city filed legal action late Friday against the state of California and various federal agencies after it discovered they were planning to use Fairview Development Center to quarantine patients who've tested positive for the coronavirus.

It said the center is close to residential areas and not suitable to house the patients, citing a risk to public health.

"We learned late Thursday that patients could begin arriving as early as Sunday," Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley said in a statement. "Filing this injunction was the only way to halt the process to allow everyone in Costa Mesa and Orange County to understand the plans in place to protect the patients as well as our community and the region."

Read the rest of the article here

3:38 a.m. ET, February 23, 2020

South Korea coronavirus cases rise to 602, five deaths

From CNN’s Yoonjung Seo in Seoul

South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Sunday that 46 additional coronavirus cases have been confirmed, bringing the country’s total to 602.

Of the total cases, 309 or about 55% have links to the Shincheonji religious group in the city of Daegu, according to authorities.

Five people in the country who had coronavirus have died, with the most recent death being confirmed Sunday afternoon.

About 5,000 to 6,000 people are being tested for coronavirus every day, authorities said.

3:05 a.m. ET, February 23, 2020

Another doctor dies from novel coronavirus in Wuhan

From CNN’s Lily Lee in Beijing

Another doctor in the Chinese city of Wuhan has died after being infected with coronavirus, according to the official WeChat account of Wuhan Xiehe Jiangbei Hospital, where the doctor worked in the gastroenterology department.

Xia Sisi, 29, was admitted to the hospital on January 19, and was then transferred to Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University as her conditioned worsened.

“At 6:30 in the early morning of February 23, 2020, she died at Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University after all rescue measures were exhausted. We express our deep condolences to Doctor Xia Sisi's unfortunate passing and condolences to her family,” the hospital said in a statement.

On Thursday, another doctor in Wuhan, 29-year-old Peng Yinhua, also died from the virus. There was national outrage earlier this month when doctor Li Wenliang, who had attempted to raise the alarm about the virus in the early weeks of the outbreak only to be reprimanded by police, died of the disease.

Chinese officials have said that more than 3,000 hospital staff have been infected with the virus.

2:54 a.m. ET, February 23, 2020

South Korea alert raised to highest level over coronavirus outbreak

From CNN’s Yoonjung Seo in Seoul

Workers spray disinfectant at a market in Busan, South Korea on Sunday.
Workers spray disinfectant at a market in Busan, South Korea on Sunday. Son Hyung-joo/Yonhap/AP

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in said in a televised speech Sunday that he is raising the national alert to the highest possible level following the spike of coronavirus infections across the country.

South Korea has reported 556 coronavirus cases, 309 of them associated with the Shincheonji religious group in Daegu, and five deaths.

"We’re now at a watershed moment with the novel coronavirus and the next few days will be very critical," Moon said in a televised address. "We need to identify the infected people as soon as possible and prevent the virus from spreading further."

"The government will raise the country’s crisis alert level to the highest as recommended by infectious disease experts and will strengthen the national response system.
Most of the tests results for the people who are showing symptoms are expected to come out over the weekend, and after that, we expect the increase in new cases related to the Shincheonji group will slow down. 
These measures are taken to quickly screen and treat infected patients and to prevent the virus from spreading to the regional community by isolating and protecting the patients.
The decision to temporarily shut down the Shincheonji related facilities by the local governments and to conduct surveys on the whole congregation is an inevitable measure to ensure the safety of the local community. 
These are not measures to restrict freedom of religious activities but to protect lives and safety of local residents and citizens. It is also a measure to ensure safety of the Shincheonji members."
3:52 a.m. ET, February 23, 2020

Just joining us? Here's where we're at

Medical workers at a coronavirus detection lab in Wuhan, China on February 22.
Medical workers at a coronavirus detection lab in Wuhan, China on February 22. Cheng Min/Xinhua via AP

The novel coronavirus has continued to spread around the world, with concerns of growing infection clusters in South Korea, Singapore and Japan, even as the worst of the outbreak remains focused in mainland China.

  • Death toll rises: As of Sunday, the number of confirmed cases of the virus is nearing 80,000. The number of deaths stands at 2,462. Of those, 20 occurred outside mainland China.
  • South Korean outbreak: Authorities in the east Asian country confirmed an additional 123 cases Sunday, bringing the total to over 550. Five deaths have occurred in the country. The majority of cases are associated with the Shincheonji Church of Jesus religious group, in the southern city of Daegu.
  • Global spread: Elsewhere in Asia, both Japan and Singapore have reported dozens of cases. In Europe, an outbreak has been confirmed in Italy, where 79 cases and two deaths have been reported, while in the Middle East, Iranian authorities have confirmed 28 cases and five deaths from the virus.
  • WHO team in Wuhan: The World Health Organization-led joint mission working on coronavirus in China arrived in Wuhan on Saturday. The city at the center of the outbreak has been reporting less new cases in recent days, but tens of thousands of people remain hospitalized there.
  • Cruise ship passengers head home: People quarantined on board the Diamond Princess cruise liner in Yokohama, Japan, have continued arriving home. But there are concerns the quarantine failed, after numerous passengers tested positive on arrival in both the US and Australia.

Can outbreak be contained? "We are clearly at the brink" of a pandemic, Anthony Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN.

"Our fate is going to be determined by the ability of countries outside of China that have travel-related cases," he said Saturday. "And now they're starting to develop sustained transmission from person to person to person."

"So when you get countries like Japan and South Korea that have these cases that are person to person to person without any real ability to point to where it came from, that's the makings of a pandemic," Fauci added.