S. Korea starts virus checks on sect members

Thorough effort: Workers spraying disinfectant to ward off Covid-19 at a bus garage in Seoul. — AP

Seoul: More than 200,000 members of a religious sect were being checked for Covid-19 symptoms by South Korean authorities, as US commanders reported the first case among American forces in the country.

Most of South Korea’s cases are linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, an entity often accused of being a cult.

After days of mounting public anger, the secretive Shincheonji group handed over a list of 212,000 members, the government said yesterday.

Local authorities across the country – which has more Covid-19 cases than anywhere else outside China – would check if they had symptoms of fever or respiratory disease and put them in quarantine at home if so, said vice health minister Kim Gang-lip.

Shincheonji claims its founder Lee Man-hee has donned the mantle of Jesus Christ and will take 144,000 people with him to heaven on the day of judgement.

A 61-year-old female member developed a fever on Feb 10,

but attended at least four church services in Daegu – the country’s fourth-largest city and the epicentre of the outbreak – before being diagnosed.

The Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reported 284 new cases yesterday – its largest daily increase to date – taking the overall national tally to 1,261, with the death toll rising to 12.The vast majority – more than 80% – of yesterday’s new cases were in Daegu and the neighbouring province of North Gyeongsang, which between them accounted for the bulk of the national total.

An American soldier stationed at Camp Carroll 30km north of Daegu had tested positive for the virus, commanders said, the first case among the 28,500 troops Washington stations in the South to defend it against the nuclear-armed North.

The 23-year-old serviceman had been put in self-quarantine at his home, US Forces Korea said, adding that it was conducting “contact tracing” to determine whether other soldiers had been exposed.

The streets of Daegu – which has a population of 2.5 million – have been largely deserted for days, apart from long queues at the few shops with masks for sale.

Authorities have urged the public to exercise extra caution, advising citizens to stay home if they have a fever or respiratory symptoms.

But they say they are not considering putting the city in lockdown the way China did for Wuhan, where the virus first emerged. — AFP
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