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Coronavirus

South Korea shuts parliament and courts as coronavirus swells

Israel and others close doors to visitors from the country

South Korea's National Assembly building will be closed until Feb. 26 as the country grapples with the surge in coronavirus cases.   © Reuters

SEOUL -- With South Korea facing a rapid surge in the number of coronavirus patients, the government is closing down its parliament and courts in an attempt to curb the outbreak and prevent widespread societal turmoil.

The number of cases in the country increased by 231 to 833 on Monday, according to the South Korean government. Eight have died.

Sixty percent of patients are members of the secretive Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu. The government is screening 37,000 individuals with symptoms or ties to the church, and urging residents of the city as well as of the larger North Gyeongsang Province to refrain from visiting other areas.

The South Korean National Assembly decided Monday to postpone legislative sessions and committee meetings after Shim Jae-cheol, floor leader for the main opposition United Future Party, was found to have come in contact with a coronavirus patient at a parliamentary event on Feb. 19.

The parliamentary building will be completely closed until Wednesday morning. All courts nationwide have also been told to close for the time being.

The military has been affected as well. A total of 13 service members in the army, navy, air force and marine corps have been infected, according to the South Korean Defense Ministry. Outdoor drills have been canceled nationwide.

At a Monday meeting in Washington, the U.S. and South Korean defense ministers are expected to discuss downsizing or postponing joint military drills usually held from the end of March to the beginning of April.

The growing turmoil has cooled investor sentiment, with the benchmark Korea Composite Stock Price Index falling 3.9% on Monday to close at 2,079.04, the lowest in two and a half months.

Blue chips like Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix fell across the board. The semiconductor industry had been on track for a recovery after more than a year of shrinking exports, but the growing outbreak is threatening to stall business activity and consumption.

Six countries have banned South Korean visitors from entering as of Monday, with another nine countries and regions imposing quarantines or other restrictions. The Israeli government blocked foreign passengers on a Korean Air flight from disembarking at Tel Aviv on Saturday. Israel is arranging for chartered flights to send stranded South Koreans home.

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