Secretive church at centre of South Korea’s coronavirus outbreak faces new scrutiny

UNTV News   •   February 27, 2020   •   291

The controversial South Korean religious sect at the centre of a new coronavirus outbreak is facing the biggest crisis in its 36-year history, as hundreds of its members have tested positive, drawing unprecedented scrutiny from authorities and the public.

South Korea reported 334 new cases of the coronavirus on Thursday (February 27) bringing the national tally to 1,595. More than 1,000 of them are from the city of Daegu, according to the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), nearly 600 directly linked to a branch of the Shincheonji church there.

The number of cases spiked since a 61-year-old woman known as “Patient 31” who attended services there tested positive on February 18. KCDC said it is still investigating the exact origin of the outbreak but five to six other members of the church contracted the virus together with the woman.

An So-young had a gut feeling that the 31st person in South Korea to test positive for the coronavirus might be a member of the controversial religious sect she quit four years ago.

“That’s their culture, they have to hide their movements, and that’s why I guessed she was with Shincheonji,” An, 27, said in an interview, referring to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus.

“You would be like 5 centimetres away from the person who sits next to you, and would have to say ‘amen’ after every sentence that the pastor speaks – it’s the best environment for the virus to spread,” An said, who left Shincheonji in 2016 after spending five years as a follower.

According to An, new members are forced to leave home and live in dormitories as part of initiation, and many break ties with family. An herself almost severed contact with her own family during her time with Shincheonji.

Shincheonji’s secretive practices and sometime aggressive recruitment efforts have made the church a controversial presence in South Korea’s religious community.

“It may appear Christian but is actually completely different…They revere founder Lee Man-hee as a saviour, like Jesus,” said Lee Duck-sure, a counsellor who helps former members of the church. “Everything is secret,” he added.

After initial resistance, the church has released the addresses of 1,100 facilities around the country – 82 churches and 1,018 “affiliates” – and asked the public to stop from making “groundless criticism,” claiming it was the “biggest victim of the virus.”

Police raided the church’s main offices in Gwacheon on Tuesday (February 25) after provincial authorities said they could no longer wait, nor rely on information provided by the church.

Calls by Reuters to the church’s headquarters repeatedly went answered.

The outbreak and the church’s opaque nature have fuelled public anger in South Korea. A petition with the presidential Blue House calling for Shincheonji to be disbanded has gathered more than 780,000 signatures since it was initiated two days ago.

On Friday (February 21) afternoon, the Daegu church was shuttered and silent, surrounded by empty streets and closed stores. Someone had thrown eggs at the front gate of the building, a sign of the anger that has simmered since the outbreak.

Doo Song-Ja, 64, said she had not heard from her daughter since 2015 after she joined the church.

“I’m so worried because so many Shincheonji followers are testing positive (for the virus) but I don’t know where she is,” said Doo, who said her 33-year-old daughter has sued her for “forcible confinement” for trying to keep her home. (Reuters)

(Production: Daewoung Kim, Dogyun Kim, Minwoo Park, Hyunyoung Yi)

South Korea reports fewer than 50 new coronavirus cases for first time since February 29 peak

UNTV News   •   April 6, 2020

South Korea reported fewer than 50 new coronavirus cases for the first time since its peak at the end of February as daily infections in Asia’s largest outbreak outside China continued a downward trend.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said on Monday (April 6) there were 47 new infections as of midnight on Sunday (April 5) compared with 81 recorded a day earlier, taking the national cumulative tally to 10,284.

But officials urged even greater vigilance, saying a large epidemic could reemerge at any time, with smaller outbreaks in churches, hospitals and nursing homes, as well as infections among travelers, continuing to arise.

A fall in daily demand for tests to some 6,000 from around 10,000 over the weekend contributed to the decline in numbers, Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said. (REUTERS CONNECT)

2 more Filipinos tested positive for COVID-19 in South Korea

Marje Pelayo   •   April 3, 2020

MANILA, Philippines — The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), through the Philippine Embassy in Seoul, confirms two more Filipino nationals have tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the total number to three.

The first Filipino COVID-19 case was confirmed on March 20 while the two new cases, who are family members of the first patient, were confirmed positive for the disease on April 1.

They were tested twice for the disease with their second test yielding positive results.

They are now confined in isolation.

The Embassy assures close coordination with the Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) and local health authorities and stands ready to provide assistance to the COVID-19 positive Filipino nationals as needed.

South Korea ranks 15th among countries in the world with the highest number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection, based on the latest data from the Johns Hopkins University & Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center.

The three Filipinos are now among the 9,976 COVID-19 cases in South Korea.

As of this posting, the number of fatality in the country is at 169 while 5,828 others have recovered.

Teenage boy dies in London after testing positive for coronavirus

UNTV News   •   April 1, 2020

A 13-year-old boy in London who tested positive for coronavirus has died, a hospital said on Tuesday (March 31).

“Sadly, a 13-year old boy who tested positive for COVID-19 has passed away, and our thoughts and condolences are with the family at this time,” King’s College Hospital said in a statement.

“The death has been referred to the coroner and no further comment will be made.”

The number of deaths from coronavirus in the United Kingdom rose by 27% as the UK government said 1,789 people have died in hospitals as of 1600 GMT on Monday, an increase of 381 from Sunday, the largest rise in absolute terms yet. (Reuters)

(Production: Gerry Mey, Michael Fiorentino)

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