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Patient 31: How one person can infect more than 1,000 people with coronavirus

The government on Sunday suspended public gatherings in churches, funerals, mosques and other social places.

“When you go to these gatherings, it’s risky. Funerals should be for immediate family members only,” said Health CS Mutahi Kagwe on Sunday.

Kagwe announced eight more people had tested positive to Covid-19 raising the number of confirmed cases to 15 as 363 more people who came in contact with the eight are tracked down.

The movement of persons who have not been tested is the fastest way to spread coronavirus that has claimed the lives of more than 14,000 people and infected more than 350,000 others globally.

Kenyans can learn a big lesson from the case of Patient 31 in South Korea, who is believed to be responsible for up to 80 percent of infections in the country.

When the first cases of Covid-19 were recorded in South Korea the government appeared to have contained the spread as the number of confirmed infections stabilised at 30.

With that assurance, many South Koreans resumed their normal lives, some even riding the subway and others went to the shopping malls freely.

However, on February 17, a 31st case surfaced at a health clinic in Daegu, a city about 240km south of the capital where the vast majority of known infections were reported.

The now infamous Patient 31 was a 61-year-old woman, who lived in Daegu and occasionally commuted to Seoul. She tested positive for the novel coronavirus.

What public health officials learned on tracing the patient’s recent movement left them in utter shock.

The woman had, during the previous 10 days, visited a hotel and attended two worship services with at least 1,000 other members of her secretive religious sect who believed the world was ending.

24 hours after testing positive, the nation’s number of confirmed cases started spiraling drastically. The tally rose by 20 during that period, doubled the following day and went up some more on the third day.

By February 20, the number of those who tested positive skyrocketed to almost 1,600 — an increase that prompted the government to raise its health alert to the highest possible level.

Half of the new cases were linked to the secretive sect called the Shincheonji that the old woman attended.

South Korean government was then forced to launch a manhunt for more than 212,000 members whose names were provided by the sect.

When Patient 31 first checked into Saeronan Chinese Medicine Hospital on February 7, she complained of headaches after being involved in a car crash but did not exhibit any symptoms of Covid-19.

She had not traveled overseas or came into contact with any known coronavirus patient.

The hospital, however, kept her under observation but on the third day, she developed a fever and received a flu test, which came back negative, according to the hospital.

The next day, she left the hospital for two hours to attend a morning service at the Shincheonji church in southern Daegu, according to Korea’s Center for Disease Control (CDC).

It is common in South Korea for hospital patients to come and go — even walking outside wearing hospital garb and wheeling intravenous drips alongside them.

The woman also had lunch with a friend at a hotel in Daegu on February 15 and attended another Shincheonji worship service on February 16, the national health authorities revealed.

It was not until February 17, as her condition worsened and a scan showed signs of pneumonia, that doctors were prompted to test her for the coronavirus.

Ten days after she first set foot in a hospital, her infection was confirmed as Covid-19 after a test and diagnosis at a public health clinic.

Authority believe she might have come into contact with a coronavirus patient who was not aware they had the disease.

The case of Patient 31 sheds more light on how coronavirus can be spread knowingly and unknowingly by people who ignore measures meant to protect them and others around them.