(ATTN: UPDATES throughout)
DAEGU/ANDONG, South Korea, Feb. 21 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's southeastern area was on full alert as the number of coronavirus patients continued to surge on Friday, with most cases assumed to be related to a church associated with a minor religious sect.
South Korea reported 100 new cases of the new coronavirus on Friday, bringing the total number of infections in the country to 204.
The number of COVID-19 infections here quadrupled from Wednesday, with most new infections traced to a branch of the Shincheonji church in Daegu, 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul.
Of the 100 new cases, 86 are in Daegu and neighboring North Gyeongsang Province, which together are home to a population of 5 million.
With the latest update, the number of infections in the southeastern region rose to 153. Of the total, 144 are assumed to be linked to the Shincheonji church.
The numbers are feared to rise as 409 members of the congregation have reported having symptoms. Around 2,700 said they do not have symptoms, while 343 could not be reached.
Daegu, the country's fourth-largest city, is grappling to prevent the contagious virus from further spreading.
It has urged residents to refrain from going outdoors and to wear masks.
The city has recommended more than 1,300 preschools close down, while 252 welfare facilities for the elderly will be closely monitored on concerns over their health.
Concerns over the city's public health capacity are rising as some emergency units have been closed and health personnel quarantined after people who were later confirmed as patients were found to have visited.
The city has asked the central government for more support, such as opening up a military hospital and providing medical personnel and 1 million masks.
Tension also ran high in Cheongdo in North Gyeongsang Province as 16 cases, including five involving medical personnel, were confirmed at a local hospital. One patient has died.
The number of patients is forecast to rise as the government is testing other patients and staff at the hospital.
On Friday, South Korea designated Daegu and Cheongdo as "special care zones" following the mass outbreak.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun vowed government efforts to take "strong and swift" measures to prevent further spread of the virus, calling the latest development an "emergency" situation.
President Moon Jae-in also called for swift and powerful measures to curb the further spread of the new coronavirus in local communities, repeatedly describing the current situation as "severe."