Why COVID-19 infections surged in South Korea
A surge in COVID-19 cases in South Korea has been linked to a secretive religious cult in Daegu.
DAEGU, SOUTH KOREA — Coronavirus infection cases have surged in South Korea, with more than half linked to a religious cult whose secretive nature is said to have helped the virus spread undetected.
The Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 1,146 confirmed COVID-19 infections in the country as of February 26. Majority are located in the city of Daegu and neighboring Cheongdo county, where they are centered around a hospital and the Shincheonji church of Jesus.
The New York Times reports that the link to many of the cases is a 61-year-old woman known as Patient No. 31. Despite presenting a fever and sore throat, she initially refused to be tested for the virus, and attended several Shincheonji church gatherings before testing positive.
Church members sit packed together on the floor during services and are not allowed to wear glasses or face masks. Citing South Korean health officials, the BBC reports that any gathering in such a confined space attended by Patient No. 31 would likely have led to more infections.
Another cluster at a hospital in Cheongo has also been associated with the church. According to the New York Times, a large number of followers attended a funeral at a hall owned by the hospital. Over 100 patients and staff have since tested positive for the virus.
Health officials learned that Patient No. 31 had also been in Cheongdo in early February. She told Newsis she hadn't visited the funeral or the hospital, only a public bathhouse.
Shincheonji is considered a cult by many in South Korea, so members typically hide their membership from non church members. This, along with the belief that being sick is a weakness, has made it more difficult for authorities to track down those who have been infected, according to the BBC.
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