South Korea reported a jump in new coronavirus cases on Wednesday as authorities tested hundreds of staff at a call centre where the disease appeared this week, reversing 11 days of slowing infections, health officials said.
Another 242 new cases were reported compared with only 35 a day earlier, bringing the total in Asia's worst outbreak outside mainland China to 7,755, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said. The death toll rose by one to 60.
The daily tally of new cases in South Korea peaked at 909 on February 29, as authorities tested about 200,000 followers of a fringe Christian church at the centre of the nation's epidemic.
With that task almost done, the infection rate had slowed in recent days, raising hopes that South Korea might be bringing the virus under control.
But new clusters at the call centre in Seoul, and among teachers and students of a dance school with classes around the country, have kept authorities on high alert for a fresh spike in infections.
Fifty two of the latest infections were in Seoul but authorities did not say how many of those were linked directly to the call centre operated by an insurance company.
Authorities say they are testing the 200 staff who worked on the floor where the first cases were discovered, while monitoring others in the centre's workforce of up to 800 people.
More than 140 new infections were in the worst-hit city of Daegu, where the church is based, and the nearby province of North Gyeongsang.
"There has been a stagnating trend in Daegu cases despite a slight increase today," said Yoon Tae-ho, director general for public health policy.
South Korean stocks drop
South Korean shares fell on Wednesday, as investors doubted whether Asian markets would benefit from Washington's stimulus package to tackle the coronavirus outbreak. The won was trading flat, while the benchmark bond yield slid.
By 0207 GMT, the benchmark KOSPI was down 28.62 points, or 1.46%, at 1,934.31.
South Korea reported 242 new virus cases as of early Wednesday, bringing the national tally to 7,755.
The US stimulus package boosted Wall Street, but the markets in South Korea, China and Japan are weaker as the benefits from Washington's move to Asian economies seem uncertain, said Seo Jung-hoon, an analyst at Samsung Securities.
Investors will be closely watching the coordinated global monetary response, starting with the European Central Bank policy-setting meeting this week and US Federal Reserve's and Bank of Japan's policy meetings later this month, Seo added.
As US coronavirus cases jumped, the White House and Congress negotiated measures on Tuesday to bolster the US economy and Americans' paychecks, although the absence of any major announcements disappointed some investors.
Foreigners were net sellers of 370.4 billion won worth of shares on the main board.
The won was quoted at 1,192.4 per dollar on the onshore settlement platform, 0.07% higher than its previous close at 1,193.2.
In offshore trading, the won was quoted at 1,192.3 per US dollar, down 0.6% from the previous day, while in non-deliverable forward trading its one-month contract was quoted at 1,190.5 per dollar.
MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan was down 0.30%.
The trading volume during the session in the KOSPI index was 274.16 million shares. Of the total traded issues of 900, the number of advancing shares was 171.
The KOSPI has fallen 11.98% so far this year, while the won has lost 3.0% against dollar.
In money and debt markets, March futures on three-year treasury bonds rose 0.10 points to 111.52.
The most liquid 3-year Korean treasury bond yield fell by 2.6 basis points to 1.052%, while the benchmark 10-year yield fell by 0.9 basis points to 1.344%.