South Korea: 7 Dead, 763 Infected As Shincheonji Church Of Jesus Emerges As The Epicentre Of Coronavirus Epidemic

South Korea: 7 Dead, 763 Infected As Shincheonji Church Of Jesus Emerges As The Epicentre Of Coronavirus EpidemicPic Courtesy: UPI

A day after the government raised its infectious disease alert to its highest level, South Korea reported an additional 161 cases on Monday morning bringing the total number of inffected patients nationwide to 763. Most of the new confirmed cases were reported in the city of Daegu, South China Morning Post reported

Korean Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) also reported the seventh death from the virus, a 62-year-old man from a hospital in Cheongdo, a county that saw surges in confirmed cases along with nearby Daegu in recent weeks.

Of the total confirmed cases, more than 300 were linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus congregation in Daegu. Local health officials warned that number could rise further as more than 1,200 church followers are displaying flu-like symptoms.

Founded in 1984 by Lee Man-hee who claims that he is the second coming of Jesus, the church has 12 branches in South Korea and over 200,000 followers. It has expanded overseas and set up a branch last year in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. The Church is said to have invited Koreans from northeastern China to South Korea as part of their evangelical work.

Shincheonji, which means "new heaven and earth" in Korean, has been described as an apocalyptic Christian group. The followers believe that founder has donned the mantle of Jesus Christ and will take 144,000 people with him to heaven on the day of judgment.

Lee also teaches he is the only person who can interpret the Bible and promises to take 144,000 people to heaven with him on the Day of Judgement. Lee has called the coronavirus "an act of the devil who saw the rapid growth of Shincheonji and wants to destroy our advancement".

It is now emerged that many of the confirmed cases can be traced back to one person: Patient no. 31, a 61-year-old woman who is a devout follower of Shincheonji Church of Jesus.

Now dubbed as "crazy ajumma" (auntie in Korean) for twice refusing to get herself tested for coronavirus despite developing known infection, the devout Church follower is said to have attended church twice despite her condition worsening. The ‘super spreader’ later freely even though she was warded for 10 days in a hospital after a car accident.

According to the Korea Center for Disease Control, Shincheonji’s unorthodox worship practices is said to have contributed to the spread of the virus among its congregation. Members are expected to kneel in tight rows and aren’t allowed to cover their faces with items like glasses or face masks.

Catholic churches in Daegu and Gwangju have suspended prayer services and other gatherings, while churches elsewhere saw declines in attendance on Sunday, especially among the elderly.

Daegu mayor Kwon Young-jin issued an appeal to city's 2.5 million residents to stay indoors and avoid gatherings and religious activities.

“Hiding is not the answer. If you hide, it could hurt your health, your family’s health, and will not help in the early cessation of the situation,” Kwon told a news conference.

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