Shincheonji Church Ignited Mass Community Coronavirus Infections, Government to Check 210,000 Members!

Jane Lee , Feb. 26, 2020, 10:52 a.m.

A recent church service by minor religious sect Shincheonji in the southeastern city of Daegu seems to have ignited mass community infections of the new coronavirus, health authorities said Tuesday. South Korea is struggling to contain the fast spread of COVID-19, with more than half of confirmed cases being linked to a Shincheonji church in Daegu, a city of 2.5 million.

The virus outbreak has escalated in Daegu, some 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, after a 61-year-old woman, the 31st patient, tested positive for the virus on Feb. 18. She attended church services in the city on Feb. 9 and 16, despite having respiratory symptoms.

The mass infections came after Shincheonji followers took part in the Feb. 16 service or had frequent contacts around that time, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). "Those who were exposed to the virus (at that time) and showed symptoms after an incubation period are being identified as patients," KCDC Director-General Jeong Eun-kyeong told a press briefing.

The government said earlier in the day that it has received a list of 212,000 Shincheonji congregants and will begin conducting coronavirus tests on those who have respiratory symptoms. The sect has agreed to provide a full list of its members to cooperate with the government's quarantine efforts.

But critics raised doubts about the authenticity of the list, as the church has boasted of having some 240,000 members. They said there are many "would-be" Shincheonji followers who study the Bible in secret. The gap in the numbers apparently stems from the calculation of followers in foreign countries, Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip told a separate press briefing.

"The government has received a list of the members in the country. But if the list is found to have missing members -- inadvertently or intentionally -- the government will take all available quarantine measures (against Shincheonji)," Kim said. 

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