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Daegu files damage suit against religious sect of Shincheonji for mass coronavirus infections

(Yonhap)
(Yonhap)

DAEGU -- Daegu, once the epicenter of South Korea's new coronavirus outbreak, filed a civil damage suit against a fringe religious sect for allegedly causing mass infections by hindering the city's quarantine efforts, the city said Tuesday.

The city, the country's fourth-largest with 24.3 million people, filed the suit with the Daegu District Court on Thursday against the Shincheonji Church of Jesus and its chairman, Lee Man-hee.

It demanded Shincheonji provide financial compensation of 100 billion won ($82.3 million), more than two-thirds of the city's total virus-related spending of 146 billion won. The city said it was planning to increase the amount as it secures more evidence of financial damage down the road.

The city believed mass infections among the religion's practitioners led to a spike in the city's COVID-19 caseload, putting huge financial strain on the city and stretching health care facilities there. The city spent a huge sum of money on quarantine and health-related work to stop the rapid spread of the virus.

Daegu's first known COVID-19 patient was confirmed on Feb. 18.

After the city found out that she was a Shincheonji member, it demanded the sect submit a list of its members, ask them to actively get tested for the virus and cooperate with the city's quarantine efforts, all of which, the city argued, were not followed through.

Also, it said many of the sect's worshipers gathered for prayer or bible studies in a place not registered as a religious facility.

Such a violation of architectural laws, the city argued, also played a role in spreading the virus.

According to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the city has reported 6,901 cases, and about 61 percent were confirmed to be Shincheonji members. The country's total caseload is 12,484 as of Tuesday.

In February, the city filed a complaint against the sect's officials for failing to submit a full list of its members and facilities and to cooperate with the city's quarantine and disinfection efforts.

In March, it raided the sect's facilities to secure closed-circuit television footage and computer hard drives to confirm illegal activities, the city said.

Prior to the damage suit, the city had received a court permit to temporarily seize some of the assets of the church and the chairman, including Lee's deposit bond.

The lawsuit is meant to "soothe the damaged hearts of Daegu citizens who suffered from COVID-19 and to hold Shincheonji accountable," said Jung Hae-yong, head of the city's suit preparation team, during a press briefing Monday.

"We expect to hold the church legally liable and get reimbursed for the spending on quarantine works and medical treatments for the infectious disease," he said, adding that the city expected a lengthy legal battle with the sect. (Yonhap)
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