From 30 cases to 4,212 in 12 days . . .
On February 19, the number of confirmed coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in South Korea was 30, and President Moon Jae-in announced the crisis was coming to an end. Fast forward 12 days, however, and the country has effectively ground to a halt with 4,212 confirmed cases and 26 deaths. Major employers, including LG Display and Samsung Electronics, have suspended operations amid the discovery of confirmed patients among workers and the Ministry of Education has delayed the return to school after the winter break by three weeks. The OECD has even reduced South Korea’s expected annual growth forecast from 2.3 per cent to 2 per cent. The sudden spike has been attributed to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus religious cult.
Patient 31, Shincheonji Church . . .
Shincheonji was established in 1984 by Lee Man-hee, who developed a set of teachings based on his interpretation of the Book of Revelation. The cult is infamous in South Korea for its secrecy and unorthodox evangelization, which includes secretly infiltrating other churches. The outbreak spiked after ‘Patient 31’ refused to get tested for COVID-19 and attended multiple services at the Shincheonji church in Daegu. The virus quickly spread among sect members, and more broadly through Daegu, which now reports 3,081 confirmed cases, over 73 per cent of South Korea’s total. Many confirmed cases outside Daegu have been found among Shincheonji adherents – who likely contracted it from the Daegu congregation – as well, and public health officials estimate that 60 per cent of the country’s cases are associated with Shincheonji.
Local governments sue Shincheonji, cult leader apologizes . . .
Shincheonji has been accused of not fully co-operating with authorities, failing to provide full lists of members, and even ordering members to hide their affiliation with the church. Against a backdrop of public anger, the City of Daegu has sued Shincheonji, and the City of Seoul has sued Lee and the church leadership for murder and violation of public health laws, citing outbreak-related deaths. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has reviewed Shincheonji members’ travel records to determine if the outbreak has any association with its branch in Wuhan. On March 2, Lee publicly apologized for the spread of COVID-19 and vowed to fully co-operate with the government.
- Foreign Policy: Cults and conservatives spread coronavirus in South Korea
- The Korea Herald: Shincheonji head apologizes, vows full support
- Ministry of Health and Welfare: 코로나바이러스감염증-19 발생동향