Fri, 03 Apr 2020

SEOUL - South Korea reported 15 new cases of the coronavirus Wednesday, intensifying concerns of an outbreak following a lull in reported South Korean infections.

A total of 46 people in South Korea have been infected with the highly contagious virus, which causes a pneumonia-like illness recently named COVID-19. South Korean health officials this week warned of a possible "new phase" of the outbreak, following five days in which no new infections were reported.

Thirteen of the latest cases are in the area around Daegu, South Korea's fourth largest city, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

More than 1,000 people are being checked for the virus or are under quarantine, the Yonhap news agency reported Wednesday, citing figures from the KCDC. The virus has killed more than 2,000 people and infected more than 75,000 worldwide. Almost all of the infections have been in China.

No South Koreans are reported to have died from the virus. Twelve of the patients have made full recoveries and were discharged from quarantine. But the virus could have a major impact on South Korea's economy, which was already experiencing lagging growth.

Citing the virus scare, Moody's Investor Service on Monday cut its forecast for South Korea's economic growth in 2020 to 1.9% from 2.1%. Moody's also said China is now expected to experience 5.2% growth in 2020 -- down from an earlier estimate of 5.8%.

Economic turmoil in China is acutely felt in South Korea, since Beijing is Seoul's top trading partner. Some South Korean automakers, including Hyundai and Kia, were forced to temporarily halt or reduce production due to a shortage of parts from China, where many factories have closed.

"China is the second largest economy in the world, and we are closely tied to the Chinese economy, so I believe that a sizable shock will be inevitable," Vice Foreign Minister Kim Yong-beom said Tuesday, according to Yonhap.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said Tuesday that the situation is "more serious than we thought," adding that "emergency steps" are needed to contain the economic fallout.

Moon, whose party faces a tough legislative election in April, is facing increased pressure to implement tighter virus prevention measures.

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