South Korea virus total nears 6,000

South Korea’s total number of novel coronavirus cases—the largest outside China, where the disease first emerged—approached 6,000 on Thursday as authorities announced a ban on face mask exports.

Total infections stood at 5,766, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, up 145, with 35 deaths.

Australia announced Thursday it would impose an entry ban on foreigners who have recently been in South Korea, joining 36 countries and regions that have taken similar measures so far according to the foreign ministry in Seoul.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said face mask exports would be banned from Friday.

Masks have become standard wear throughout South Korea and demand has surged, with long queues forming as authorities struggle to ensure a sufficient supply.

“Most people are spending hours queueing,” Chung told a meeting in Daegu, the centre of the epidemic in South Korea, where he is leading the government response.

“I feel heavy responsibility for people’s suffering from the shortage,” he said, adding distribution would prioritise medical and disinfection workers.

Manufacturers were last month limited to exporting 10 percent of their production.

Nearly 90 percent of South Korea’s cases are in Daegu—with more than 4,300 cases confirmed there—and the neighbouring North Gyeongsang province.

Most of the country’s infections are linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a religious sect often condemned as a cult.

A 61-year-old woman member in Daegu developed symptoms on February 10 and attended at least four services before being diagnosed.

President Moon Jae-in announced a 30-trillion-won ($25-billion) package earlier this week to address the “grave” situation brought on by the outbreak in the world’s 12th-largest economy.

Scores of events—from K-pop concerts to sports seasons—have been cancelled or postponed over the contagion, with school and kindergarten breaks extended by three weeks nationwide.

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