From one woman the disease was transmitted to the followers, and already from them dispersed in the city of Daegu. Now tens of thousands of Koreans are demanding that the movement be disbanded.
Coronavirus Covid-19 continues to diverge in other countries. After quarantine on the cruise liner off the coast of Japan, another place appeared, which can be considered the largest source of infection – this is South Korea. The number of cases in the country has already exceeded 600 people.
In the center of the outbreak was the South Korean city of Daegu (2.5 million people). More than half of the cases of infection of the authorities are associated with a religious sect, whose branch is located in the city. A visit to a sick woman’s services led church followers to spread coronavirus throughout the city and beyond — tens of thousands of people are demanding that the organization be disbanded.
What is this sect
We are talking about the religious organization Shincheonji (Shincheonji), less often it is called Shin-chongji in Russia. From Korean, it translates as “New Heaven and New Earth.”
The movement was founded in 1984 by South Korean preacher Lee Man-hee, who is now 88 years old. He claims to be an immortal prophet sent by Jesus Christ to prepare for the end of the world. According to the preacher, only he and his followers have access to the true meaning contained in the Bible, and this helps him lead people to the “second coming”.
Sinjongji supporters call themselves the church when, as the main churches in South Korea, they consider them a cult. Over 36 years, the sect has grown to 300 thousand followers and went beyond the country. There are churches in South Africa, Costa Rica and Congo. A few more “cells” are located in China.
Former church members told The New York Times that their practices could have affected the rapid spread of coronavirus. Unlike other religious organizations, followers of Sinchonji are forced to sit tightly on each other on the floor and put their hands on the neighbor’s shoulders, and glasses or masks should not be worn. “We were taught not to be afraid of disease,” added one of the former followers.
According to the Korean authorities, the source of the outbreak of infection in Daegu was a 61-year-old sect follower, also known as “Patient 31”. The number refers to the fact that she became the 31st person in South Korea, who discovered Covid-19. But she was the first to spread the disease so much.
Patient 31 complained of a sore throat as early as February 8th, but after that she went to church Sunday service. Then she developed a fever, but the woman went to the Sinchonji meeting again. Prior to the discovery of the coronavirus on February 18, she contacted at least a thousand people, mainly with other members of the sect.
During this period, doctors twice advised a woman to take a test for Covid-19, but she refused. Later it turned out that she went to the neighboring city of Chondo: as a result, 108 people got sick there, two died. Chondo is the birthplace of the preacher and founder of Sinchonji. Followers go there on a pilgrimage.
Prior to Patient 31, the situation in South Korea remained relatively normal. But because of her and other cult followers, the number of infected exceeded 600 people. Sect members – 309 people, 55% of all cases. Even hundreds of people have signs of the development of the virus, but the diagnosis has not yet been confirmed.
Criticism and appeals in South Korea
By February 23, the Daegu streets were empty – people are afraid to go out, and if they go out, they are in a mask and gloves. Shops and restaurants are closed. Taxi driver complained to The Guardian journalist: “I earn 10% of regular income. This sect destroyed everything. Sometimes we are afraid to talk to each other, because we don’t know who has the virus and who is in the cult. ”
The Korean Central Concert Hall plans to test more than 9 thousand members of the Shinjongji Church, while more than 600 followers of the Daegu branch do not answer calls and messages. The initial symptoms of Covid-19 were already recorded in 544 out of a thousand followers who passed the test.
Shinjongji suspended the activities of the Daegu church, ending services and moving services online. Lee Man Hee announced cooperation with the authorities and asked his followers not to get together until the situation is resolved. “This outbreak is the work of the devil who wants to stop the rapid growth of Sinchonji,” he added .
Church members are also victims of infection, we want South Korean citizens to remember this. We sincerely ask people to stop showering us with criticism and hatred.
from a statement by Sinchonji Church
Representatives of the sect make excuses for thinking that “Patient 31” has a common cold. But many Koreans, worried about an outbreak of coronavirus, turned their anger at Sinchonji. Branches of the church have already closed in Seoul. And on the government website with civic initiatives, a petition appeared demanding to forcibly disband the religious cult.
It has already been signed by more than 250 thousand people. According to the law, after 100 thousand signatures, the government is obliged to respond to the request.