Controversial religious group is at the center of South Korea’s coronavirus outbreak

At least 231 of the country’s 433 confirmed cases are associated with the religious group Shincheonji, according to South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (KCDC).

The total number of cases reported in South Korea in the past 24 hours stands at 229, after 142 new cases were confirmed overnight.

About 9,300 Shincheonji members are being placed in isolation and will be tested, the country’s health and welfare ministry said on Saturday.

The Shincheonji centers on the personality of its founder and president, Lee Man-hee. On a website believed to be the group’s official home page, the group strongly suggests that Lee is the “promised pastor” mentioned in the Bible. The passage he highlights suggests that the Promised Pastor is the second coming of Jesus Christ.

Group members come together in a way that puts them in close contact with each other for long periods of time.

KCDC Director Jung Eun-Kyeong said at a press briefing on Friday: “(We) see that it is possible for the characteristics of many people sitting side by side in a very confined space and holding the service. for over an hour … (could have led to) a few who were exposed to infect many (others) infected. “

The group said it “deeply regrets” the outbreak that occurred at their Daegu branch, in a statement posted online Friday.

It said its “services, gatherings and mission activities” had been stopped and all of its buildings were being disinfected.

The group also expressed concern over what it said was “false information” circulated about him, in particular reports that he was “” the main culprit in the spread of the virus “, pointing to reference to our “unusual style of service”.

He added that he had to organize upstairs services to “maximize the number of occupants in our small space – which was due to the fact that Shincheonji had not obtained our legitimate building permit.”

CNN attempted to contact the Shincheonji Group for comment.

The group has previously been described as a cult. John Everard, former British diplomat and Korean expert, told CNN: “There are all kinds of sects in South Korea. [Shincheonji members] are generally considered not to be particularly smart. They have beliefs that are far removed from the mainstream and in Pastor Lee there is a real cult of personality. In this context, Pastor Lee’s personality cult is not one of the most extreme, but it does exist. “

Church of England had also previously issued a warning regarding splinter groups in the UK, in which he suggested the group was a cult.
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As South Korea grapples with the outbreak, two patients diagnosed with coronavirus have died in the country, according to the KCDC.

The first patient tested positive for the virus after his death, according to the KCDC on Thursday. KCDC Director Jung said on Friday the victim suffered from chronic lung disease and had been hospitalized for a long time.

Jung also said the second patient, identified as a woman born in 1965, was confirmed to carry the virus on Friday.

South Korean officials said on Friday that the two cities where the virus outbreak was confirmed would be designated as “special care areas.”

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said, “(The government) will implement special measures by designating the regions of Daegu and Cheongdo, which are experiencing difficulties due to a sudden increase in confirmed cases, as” areas of care. special “.”

The government also plans to send military medical personnel and prepare temporary isolation facilities for those who cannot self-isolate.