Coronavirus: South Korea reports rise in cases as Seoul’s new consul general to China prepares to fly to Wuhan

Laura Zhou

South Korea has named its new consul general in Wuhan, epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, as Seoul reported a significant jump in its infection numbers.

Kang Seung-seok, former chief of the consular office in the northeastern city of Dalian, was due to leave Seoul for the capital of central Hubei province by air on Wednesday night with a cargo of medical supplies donated by South Korean local governments and the private sector, the Yonhap News agency reported.

His appointment came as China stepped up its efforts, including a door-to-door screening campaign, to contain the spread of the pneumonia-like illness that, as of Wednesday, infected about 61,700 people in Hubei and killed 1,921.

According to Yonhap, there were about 100 South Koreans living in and around Wuhan.

Kang Seung-seok moves from Dalian to Wuhan, the epicentre of the Coronavirus outbreak. Photo: Yonhap

On Wednesday, Seoul reported another 20 infections, taking the total to 51 confirmed cases. Eighteen of the 20 were from Daegu, 300 kilometres southeast of the capital, and 15 of those were believed to be linked to a 61-year-old woman who was confirmed as the 31st case on Tuesday, the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said.

She developed a fever on February 10 but reportedly refused to be tested for the coronavirus on the grounds that she had not recently travelled abroad, the KCDC said.

South Korea is among the first countries outside China to have reported confirmed cases of coronavirus. It has stopped foreigners arriving from Hubei and suspended visa-free entry to the island of Jeju – a popular destination for Chinese tourists – since January.

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Seoul has since flown more than 800 people home from Wuhan on charter planes. In its third and the most recent evacuation last week, 147 South Koreans, as well as their Chinese spouses and other relatives, were airlifted and placed in quarantine on arrival in Icheon. Five with fever symptoms were taken to hospital for checks.

A total of 1030 people were under quarantine in South Korea as of Wednesday, the KCDC said. Twelve have recovered from the infection and were sent home from hospital.

The coronavirus outbreak and Covid-19 infections that followed began in a wet market in Wuhan in December. Ties between China and South Korea, strained over Seoul’s deployment of a US-back sophisticated anti-missile system in 2016, have improved in recent months.

Wuhan has turned public buildings, including sports centres, into temporary hospitals. Photo: Xinhua

South Korean President Moon Jae-in met Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing in December, and Xi is expected to travel to South Korea in the first half of this year.

The impact of the coronavirus outbreak has deepened concerns in South Korea, where the trade-oriented economy has been under pressure as supply chains have been disrupted and exports have suffered. China is South Korea’s largest trading partner.

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Seoul has this week announced a series of emergency measures worth US$356 million including offers of loans to airlines, shipping companies, travel agencies and retailers facing a virus-related liquidity crunch. On Tuesday, Moon called for “all possible measures” to support South Korea’s economy.

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