South Korean President Moon Jae-in placed his country on the highest possible level of alert on Sunday following the drastic rise of coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, cases in the region. The designation allows the government to lock down cities, restrict domestic travel and block public activities, among others, measures similar to those China has taken to control the spread of the disease.
Moon’s announcement comes in light of the 602 confirmed coronavirus cases and five deaths, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Per the New York Times, in an emergency meeting of government officials to discuss the outbreak, the South Korean president stated that the next few days would be a “critical time” for the country.
“The central government, local governments, health officials and medical personnel and the entire people must wage an all-out, concerted response to the problem,” Moon said.
The country has the highest number of cases of coronavirus outside China.
More than 300 of South Korea’s confirmed coronavirus cases are linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu, a southeastern city of 2.4 million people. The Wall Street Journal reports that the mayor of Daegu has told people to stay indoors and avoid large gatherings. Former church members have reported that between 8,000 and 9,000 people attend worship services at Shincheonji’s eight-story church in the city.
South Korea’s efforts are similar to those taken by China since the outbreak began. In January, China banned its citizens from going on international tours and booking overseas flight and hotel packages. During the Lunar New Year holiday, many cities cancelled large public gatherings to prevent the spread of the disease. China has also locked down millions of people in cities and villages across the country.
Worldwide, WHO states that there are 78,811 confirmed cases of coronavirus in 29 countries. There have been 2,445 deaths in China and 17 deaths outside of China. Italy is currently dealing with the largest coronavirus outbreak in Europe, with the Times reporting there are 152 cases confirmed cases in the country. In response, Italian officials locked down more 50,000 people in 10 towns in the Lombardy region in Northern Italy.