Medical personnel test staff at a Seoul call center for Covid-19. Photo: AFP

Italy has overtaken South Korea in terms of the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases, making it the number two affected nation after China, where the disease’s first outbreak occurred.

South Korea registered a total of 7,513  cases, while Italy had 9,172, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, which maintains an interactive map/database of cases.

With 80,756 confirmed infections, China leads the world in total numbers, but with Beijing’s muscular crisis-management methods dragging its rate of increase down, and South Korea on a downward trajectory for four consecutive days, the disease focus appears to be shifting from east to west.

Iran has 7,161 cases, France 1,412, Spain 1,231, Germany 1,224 and the US 754.

Falling numbers

While South Korea’s total number of cases continues to climb, it has seen a slowdown in new cases day-on-day since last Friday.

On March 6, there were 505 new cases over the previous day, on March 7 448, on March 8 273, on March 9 164. On Tuesday, that figure was only 35.

Tests have concluded on the biggest cluster of at-risk persons – members of the Shincheonji Church in the southeastern city of Daegu. However, a significant outbreak in the capital, Seoul, is stoking renewed fears.

New alarms

On Monday evening, an 11th-floor call center in a high-rise in a southwestern Seoul industrial neighborhood that is also home to a busy subway hub was disinfected. Between 50 and 64 cases are believed to have originated at the call center, according to Yonhap news agency on Tuesday.

If the early figures are correct, the call center cases far outstrip the cases in two earlier clusters in the capital – 13 cases at an apartment complex and 14 at a hospital.

Call center staff were reportedly packed tightly into the 11th floor space and did not wear masks, according to early reports. Health authorities were testing another 550 staff at the same company who worked on different floors, reports said.

Authorities have urged other workers and inhabitants of the 19-story building, which has six basement floors and both residential and office space, to go into immediate quarantine.

While Daegu and its surrounding province are home to 90% of the cases so far, Daegu has a population of 2.4 million, but Seoul is home to 10 million. 

Moreover, the wider Seoul metropolitan area – a vast conurbation which includes the port city of Incheon, the industrial satellite city of Suwon and a number of dormitory cities – is home to half the country’s 51 million citizens.

 South Korean confirmed Covid-19 cases

January 20: First case

Tuesday February 18: Woman connected to Shincheonji Church tests positive

Wednesday February 19: Total 51 cases.

Thursday February 20: New cases: 53. Total 104

Friday February 21: New cases: 100. Total 204

Saturday February 22: New cases: 229. Total 433

Sunday February 23: New cases: 169. Total 602

Monday February 24:  New cases: 231. Total 833

Tuesday February 25: New cases: 144. Total: 977

Wednesday February 26: New cases: 284. Total: 1261

Thursday February 27: New cases: 505. Total: 1,766

Friday February 28: New cases: 571.Total: 2,337

Saturday February 29:  New cases: 813. Total: 3,150

Sunday March 1: New cases: 586. Total: 3,736

Monday March 2: New cases: 549. Total: 4,335

Tuesday March 3: New cases: 851. Total: 5,186

Wednesday March 4: New cases: 435. Total: 5,621

Thursday March 5: New cases: 467. Total: 6,088

Friday March 6: New cases:  505. Total 6,593

Saturday March 7: New cases: 448. Total, 7041.

Sunday March 8: New cases: 273. Total 7,314

Monday March 9:  New cases: 164. Total: 7,478

Tuesday March 10: New cases:  35. Total: 7,513

Data: Korea Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Note: The KCDC releases figures at various times of the day. The above chart is collated from figures released at close of business, daily.