South Korean health authorities said on Sunday that 18 South Koreans who visited Israel for a group pilgrimage have tested positive for the novel coronavirus infection. The authorities have confirmed that 18 out of the 39 Catholic pilgrims were found to be infected with COVID-19 on Saturday, reported Yonhap News Agency.
Residents of North Gyeongsang Province, epicentre of most new cases
The group travelled to Israel on February 8 and returned on February 16. Incidentally, a large number of the pilgrims belong to the North Gyeongsang Province—the southeastern region where most of the new cases have been reported, including the massive outbreak in Daegu. The tour guide who accompanied them is a resident of Seoul, the capital of South Korea.
In order to prevent the spread of infection, the transmission route of the patients is being carefully analysed and all the members are under strict monitoring the health authorities said.
Another pilgrimage group
Adding to the fears surrounding the growing number of infections, a member of another pilgrimage group that visited Israel recently is under examination after showing symptoms of the coronavirus. The group that consisted of 37 people, all residents of Jeju Island, was in the Middle Eastern nation from February 11 to February 21.
As a result, a religious newspaper based in Daegu that facilitated the tour, The Catholic Times, has said that it has ceased operations at its Seoul and Daegu offices and all its employees have been quarantined. So far, 556 cases and four deaths have been reported in South Korea, with several new cases reported in Daegu alone.
40 churches shut in North Gyeongsang
The Catholic diocese of Andong, under whose jurisdiction churches across over half of the North Gyeongsang Province lie, has called for the shut down of 40 churches and suspended masses, events and meetings that were scheduled over the next three weeks.
Israel bans entry of South Koreans
Following the outbreak of COVID-19 infection in South Korea and the recent trips made by citizens from the East Asian nation to the country, Israel has banned the entry of South Koreans. Nearly 200 foreigners including South Koreans were refused entry into the country after landing in Tel Aviv, reported Yonhap News Agency.
The South Korean officials lodged a complaint against the abrupt refusal of entry and sought the resumption of passage to its citizens. However, Israel rejected the request citing the risk of an outbreak within the nation. Nearly 130 South Koreans were set back to on the same plane to Incheon International Airport.