Cult Korean Church Suspected in Local Coronavirus Outbreak

Cheryl Sanders
February 22, 2020

More than 100 of the newly confirmed infections were among those who attended services or were affiliated with a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the city of Daegu in the southeast of South Korea, bringing the country's total infected to 204 as new infections were showing signs of slowing in China.

The country has reported a sharp rise in infections, pushing the total number of confirmed cases to 104.

Residents of a South Korean city at the centre of a new coronavirus outbreak described empty streets, deserted shops, and a climate of fear as a surge in confirmed cases linked to a church raised the prospect of wider transmission.

Shincheonji said on Wednesday it had closed its Daegu church and instructed that services elsewhere be held online or individually at home.

The mayor of Daegu - South Korea's fourth-biggest city, with a population of over 2.5 million - has advised residents to stay indoors, while access to a major U.S. base in the area has been restricted.

China has reported an uptick in coronavirus cases, with more than 400 new infections in Chinese prisons alone.

There are more than 1,000 cases outside China, including on Diamond Princess and in Singapore, South Korea and Hong Kong.

The sect in the city of Daegu accounts for 30 of 53 new cases, with officials warning of an unprecedented crisis.

The Shincheonji church has announced that it had closed down all of its facilities nationwide.

Stocks fell 1.5 per cent in South Korea yesterday.

The 88-year-old Lee told his followers in an internal message that the virus was the work of the devil "to stop the rapid growth of Shincheonji", according to South Korea's Yonhap news agency.

The multiplying caseload in South Korea showed the ease with which the illness can spread.

China has now seen 2,118 deaths and recorded almost 75,000 infections.

Daegu, where the 2.5 million inhabitants have been asked to stay indoors, and neighboring Cheongdo were designated as a "special management zone" earlier in the day.

"These events are quite common among all infectious diseases, we see them all the time".

A woman in her mid-50s, who was confirmed to be infected with the virus, died at a hospital in the southeastern city of Busan at around 6 p.m., hospital officials said.

She said: "This is the case where some individuals can either be much more infectious than others so that they may go on and infect many people or, equally, it can be related to their contact patterns". The Daegu church has about 8,000 followers.

"From now on, the government will further prioritize preventing the virus from spreading locally".

The virus has also spread around the globe with more than 1,000 cases and several deaths in the rest of Asia, in Europe, the United States and Africa. A third infection was reported in an air force officer who is based in Daegu but who had recently traveled to military headquarters in central South Korea, the defense ministry said, prompting the quarantine of 80 soldiers there.

The World Health Organisation warned nations they could face a serious problem if they fail to "hit hard now" against the new coronavirus, which has infected more than 75,000 in China and over 1,100 overseas. KCDC officials said they were interviewing Patient No. 31 for further clues and investigating all 600 staff and patients at the hospital for possible symptoms of the new coronavirus.

In a telephone conversation with Mr Kwon, President Moon Jae-in said the central government will make all assistance available to help Daegu fight the virus's spread, according to the presidential Blue House.

Other reports by iNewsToday