The veiled Christian sect linked to more than half of South Korea’s COVID-19 infections said Sunday that they were fully cooperating with health authorities to contain the deadly virus.
In a video clip posted on its YouTube channel, the Shincheonji Church of Jesus also fought back against “groundless” media reports, rumors and criticism, saying they were the “biggest victims of a virus that originated in China.”
“We continue to see reports that suggest Shincheonji is hiding something,” Kim Simon, the group’s spokesperson, said in the clip, detailing how the church has never failed to provide whatever information was requested by authorities since the outbreak.
“We hereby urge you to stop the hatred against Shincheonji followers,” he added.
As of Sunday afternoon, 329, or about 54.7 percent, of the country’s 602 confirmed cases of the highly contagious virus have been linked to members of the the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, considered a cult by mainstream churches here, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The cases were traced to packed Sunday services at Shincheonji’s Daegu branch, where worshippers were said to have sat closely together on the floor.
Health authorities have secured some 9,300 names of people affiliated with the Daegu church. As of Saturday afternoon, some 1,276 people on the list said they had some symptoms, while some 7,390 said they did not.
Earlier in the day, Daegu Mayor Kwon Young-jin said at a briefing that the search would continue for those who were still out of touch and that authorities were regularly monitoring those who attended Sunday services.
The Daegu Metropolitan Police Agency mobilized some 600 officers to locate those followers who are still unaccounted for.
The group’s spokesperson said they were about 260 who are out of touch.
Shincheonji’s church and other facilities in Daegu were shut down last week.
Other cities including Seoul, Ulsan and Gwangju are on alert after some Shincheonji followers there were found to have contracted the virus after attending church services in Daegu.
The 27-year-old woman at the center of the first case in Ulsan, confirmed Saturday, joined a service on Feb. 9 at the Daegu branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, and another at the Ulsan branch on Feb. 16 along with some 100 others, according to the Ulsan Metropolitan Government. The Ulsan branch has some 4,800 members.
The municipality said it would secure a membership list of the church’s Ulsan branch and check the infection status of members.
By Ock Hyun-ju (firstname.lastname@example.org)