Coronavirus-linked church members sought by South Korean officials

Virus spread to worshipers at Shincheonji church, officials say

South Korean officials are working to track down members of an unusual religious group who may have been infected with the coronavirus during worship services, The Korea Herald reported.

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More than 80 percent of members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu who were tested showed positive for COVID-19 coronavirus out of a total of 1,132 confirmed cases in the city Thursday, according to the report.

Government officials close down a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which has emerged as the biggest cluster of infections of a new virus in the country, in Gwangju, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. (Ryu Hyung-geun/Newsis via AP)

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Officials have been working to check on other worshipers, but they've had trouble contacting all the members of the secretive church, which reportedly has more than 1,100 locations and more than 310,000 followers. When providing members’ contact info to officials seeking out people infected with the virus, the group had initially not included a list of 65,000 members who are still taking courses required to join, the Herald reported.

Shincheonji members accounted for the bulk of coronavirus cases in Daegu Thursday, according to the report. And Mayor Kwon Young-jin told reporters that the number of patients will likely “continue to grow for a few days.”

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A South Korean army vehicle sprays disinfectant on a road to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 in Daegu, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. (Kim Hyun-tae/Yonhap via AP)

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Coronavirus cases across South Korea indicate that Shincheonji members traveled around the country, according to the report. In another city, Gwacheon, authorities said a phone survey of 4,890 residents who attended service at the church’s local branch turned up 215 who reported coronavirus symptoms. On Jeju, an island south of the Korean Peninsula, 35 Shincheonji members had symptoms.

The church teaches that its founder, Lee Man-hee, is the second coming of Jesus Christ. It dates back to the 1980s and has been accused of being a cult due to its unusual beliefs and practices, according to the BBC.

Workers wearing protective gear arrive to spray disinfectant as a precaution against the new coronavirus at a shopping street in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

A group representing “victims” of Shincheonji filed a complaint with South Korea’s Supreme Prosecutors Office Thursday accusing Lee and the church of violating the country’s infectious disease prevention law.

South Korea has the second-highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the world, according to the World Health Organization. As of Thursday, the WHO said there were more than 1,720 confirmed cases and 13 deaths in South Korea out of 82,000 cases and 2,811 deaths worldwide.

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