On Saturday, the country reported 229 new cases in the sharpest yet spike in the number of the infections, AFP said. It already hosted a similar number in the largest outbreak of the disease to affect a region outside mainland China, where the virus emerged late last year in the central city of Wuhan, Presstv Reported.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said, "The government believes the situation of the COVID-19 infections is turning into a grave phase, and is making every effort to prevent the spread," referring to the virus by its codename.
He also warned that the government would act firmly against people hoarding face masks.
Including the new patients, the national toll across South Korea now stands at 433. Most of the new cases were reported in the southern city of Cheongdo, and among members of a religious sect in the nearby city of Daegu.
Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip, meanwhile, said some of the cases showed "no confirmed epidemiological connections," meaning it was not clear how they had received the virus.
US military base, Samsung affected
The mayor of Daegu, South Korea's fourth-biggest city, with a population of more than 2.5 million, has advised locals to stay indoors, while access to a major US military base in the area has been restricted, AFP added.
Also on Saturday, Samsung Electronics Co. said it had temporarily shut down a smartphone plant in the southeastern city of Gumi, shortly after a plant employee tested positive for coronavirus, the official Yonhap news agency reported. The company plans complete disinfection of the plant in Gumi, which lies 260 kilometers (161 miles) southeast of the capital Seoul.
“The Gumi plant produces Samsung's flagship smartphones, including the Galaxy Z Flip foldable smartphone,” the agency noted.
So far, three people have died from the virus in South Korea.
The outbreak, which began in December, has killed more than 2,000 people and infected more than 75,000 in China.
The disease has spread to some 26 countries outside mainland China, killing 13 people.
Earlier, reports said that the first European to succumb to coronavirus had died in Italy, just hours after 10 towns were locked down following a flurry of new cases.
In Iran, five people have lost their lives to the infection, while the number of those affected reportedly stands at 28.
On Thursday, Ali Rabiei, spokesman for the Iranian administration, said the country had formed a special task force to battle coronavirus, right after two deaths were reported in the north-central city of Qom.
The World Health Organization has said there remains a narrowing window of opportunity for confronting the virus. The body has also warned that if the virus started to spread across the African continent, the health systems there would be ill-equipped to provide the adequate response.