The Christian sect linked to more than half of South Korea’s COVID-19 infections said its leader’s brother received inpatient treatment for five days before dying at Daenam Hospital, where mass infections occurred.
Also, inpatients in the closed psychiatric ward of the hospital in Cheongdo, near Daegu, stayed out overnight, went out for appointments or had visitors on 25 occasions between Jan. 22 and Feb. 13, according to the hospital.
Most of the confirmed cases at Daenam Hospital were patients and health care workers in the psychiatric ward.
The hospital said it was still looking into how the psychiatric patients initially contracted the coronavirus.
“Many patients and staff members in the psychiatric ward began to show signs of fever from Feb. 15. … One or two had shown symptoms before then, but they were not serious and were similar to cold symptoms,” an official at the hospital said.
“We conducted various tests at the time, but did not see test results indicative of COVID-19 infection. As more people showed symptoms, we requested COVID-19 tests on Feb. 18, and was informed of the confirmed cases Feb. 19.”
The hospital confirmed that the elder brother of Shincheonji Church of Jesus leader Lee Man-hee was hospitalized in its emergency room for five days starting Jan. 27 and died Jan. 31.
About 40 Shincheonji followers, including Chinese people, attended his funeral, which was held for three days until Feb. 2 at Daenam Hospital.
Health authorities said they were tracking those who attended the funeral.
The hospital denied having any links to Shincheonji, saying it belongs to the Presbyterian Church of Korea.
“We did not find any links to Shincheonji among hospital management, staff and their families,” the official said.
The government said Tuesday that it will conduct COVID-19 tests on those Shincheonji followers deemed to be at the highest risk, as the religious sect has agreed to provide a complete list of its members.
Shincheonji, considered a cult by mainstream churches in Korea, is believed to have some 240,000 worshippers.
By Kim So-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org