SEOUL • Thousands of members of a Protestant church linked to a coronavirus cluster in Seoul have been asked to quarantine, the South Korean authorities said yesterday, accusing the group’s firebrand conservative leader – who has reportedly tested positive – of obstruction.
The country’s “trace, test and treat” approach has been held up as a global model in how to curb the virus, but it is now battling several clusters linked to religious groups.
Over the weekend, the capital and neighbouring Gyeonggi province – between them home to nearly half the population – banned all religious gatherings and urged residents to avoid unnecessary travel after a burst of new cases sparked fears of a major second wave.
South Korea reported 197 new infections yesterday, taking its total to 15,515, its fourth consecutive day of triple-digit increases after several weeks with numbers generally in the 30s and 40s. The death toll stands at 305.
The largest current cluster is centred on Sarang Jeil Church in Seoul, headed by Mr Jun Kwang-hun, a controversial conservative pastor who is a leading figure in protests against President Moon Jae-in.
A total of 315 cases linked to the church were confirmed by the end of the weekend, officials said yesterday, and around 3,400 church members had been asked to quarantine.
Vice-Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said about one in six church members tested so far was positive, “requiring rapid testing and isolation”. But a list of members provided by the church was “inaccurate”, he added, making the testing and isolation procedure “very difficult”.
The Health and Welfare Ministry and the Seoul city authorities have filed two separate police complaints against Mr Jun, accusing him of deliberately hindering efforts to contain the epidemic.
Mr Kim said if the rate of new infections did not stabilise this week, the government would tighten distancing measures, shut high-risk facilities and ban indoor meetings of 50 people or more and outdoor gatherings of 100 or more.
Mr Jun was among speakers who addressed thousands of right-wing protesters who rallied against Mr Moon’s centre-left government in the heart of Seoul at the weekend, despite calls to avoid large gatherings.
Mr Jun has tested positive for the virus, said Yonhap News Agency yesterday. He claimed in an interview with a Christian media outlet that his church was a victim of “virus terror”.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS