S.Korea raises coronavirus alert level to highest

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South Korea raised its disease alert to the highest level on Sunday after a surge in coronavirus infections and two more deaths, while China state media warned the outbreak there had yet to reach a turning point despite some signs of easing.

South Korea’s president said he was putting the country on “red alert” due to the rapid rise in new cases, which are largely being traced back to church services. Health officials reported 169 new infections, bringing the total to 602, having doubled from Friday to Saturday.

The escalation in the alert level allows the government to send extra resources to Daegu city and Cheongdo county, which were designated “special care zones” on Friday.

South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency said it also enables the government to forcibly prevent public activities and order the temporary closure of schools, though the government gave no immediate details on what steps could be taken.

In China, the health commission confirmed 648 new infections - higher than a day earlier - but only 18 were outside of Hubei province, the lowest number outside of the epicenter since authorities started publishing data a month ago and locked down large parts of the country.

But the number of cases continued to climb elsewhere.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe instructed government agencies on Sunday to urgently prepare medical provisions and draft a comprehensive plan to curb the spread of the virus, after it reported 27 more cases a day earlier.

The US State Department raised its travel advisory level one notch for South Korea and Japan to Level 2 on a scale of 1 to 4.