New coronavirus infections linked to a church in northern Seoul continued to surge on Monday, causing concern over additional cases among its members, and also a public backlash against the church and its leader for lack of cooperation.
Cases traced to Sarang Jeil Church in the northern ward of Seongbuk reached 315 as of midnight, according to Seoul city government data. The figure is slightly more than 312 that health authorities have confirmed. With the latest figure, the church has emerged as the country’s second-biggest virus cluster following 5,214 cases associated with Shincheonji, a fringe religious sect held accountable for mass infections in the southeastern city of Daegu earlier this year.
Despite repeated warnings from the government, members of the church, led by conservative pastor Jun Kwang-hoon, attended a mass Liberation Day rally in central Seoul on Saturday.
Health authorities voiced concern that the number of virus cases tied to the church may rise further as thousands of elderly participants shouted slogans and were in close contact with one another. “Of the 4,000 churchgoers whom authorities have identified as of midnight, 3,400 have been placed in quarantine and 2,000 have been screened,” Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip said in a regular press briefing. Of the total, 312 have tested positive, which translates to a high positive rate of 16.1 percent and calls for swift testing and quarantine,”
Kim urged people who attended the mass rally to be tested at nearby screening centers.
“Because the list (of churchgoers) is inaccurate, there are difficulties in tracking down every church member and placing them under quarantine, and there are a considerable number of churchgoers who have not been tested,” Kim said. “Those who show respiratory symptoms, such as fever and coughing, after attending the Seoul rally should immediately visit a screening center to be tested.”
Public anger over the church and its leader Jun has also mounted, with more than 200,000 people signing an online petition asking for the pastor to be detained.
The petition, first posted on Aug. 15, demands that Jun, who was released on bail, be detained again for “harming society’s safety under the mask of religion.” The author said Jun had “wasted” the country’s efforts to end the coronavirus and had shown no sign of regretting his action or worrying about churchgoers’ health.
On Sunday, prosecutors asked a local court to revoke Jun’s bail. He was indicted in March over allegations of violating the election law and was released the following month on condition that he does not take part in any rallies related to the pending case. (Yonhap)