A Lao citizen has been found to be involved with a Wuhan branch of South Korea’s Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which is the center of an outbreak of new coronavirus or COVID-19 in the country.
During a press conference on March 2, Lee Man-hee, the founder and spiritual leader of the church, said the church has a total of 357 members at its branch in the Chinese city of Wuhan, one being a Lao citizen and the rest being Chinese.
Lee initially dismissed his sect’s responsibility in the spread of the coronavirus, reportedly saying that the disease is the “work of the devil” to stop the rapid growth of his church.
However, Lee later apologized for the outbreak in South Korea, which has, in large part, been traced to the religious sect’s Daegu city branch. He has now shared the names of members with authorities while shutting down church facilities as the church-related virus cases mounted.
In South Korea, the church found itself at the center of a spike in the virus cases after a 61-year-old woman, a member of the group’s branch in South Korean city Daegu, tested positive. The South Korean authorities believe the woman triggered a “super-spreader” event that could have infected at least 43 people.
The woman ignored her symptoms and attended prayer sessions on two consecutive weekends because she thought she had a common cold. That later forced Daegu officials to ask over 1,000 churchgoers to stay home and isolate themselves from their families.
Separately, it was revealed that a senior health official in Daegu waited until after he tested positive for coronavirus before disclosing that he was, in fact, a Shincheonji member. A local policeman and school teacher did the same.
In China, members of the group had been meeting in Hubei province until December, possibly ignoring nation-wide concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.
These incidents triggered further criticism over the churchgoers that they are intentionally hiding from authorities, denying the virus testing.
The latest figure suggests that about 60 percent of coronavirus cases in South Korea are Shincheonji-related.
Laos has toughened its screening procedures for foreigners who wish to enter the country after visiting South Korea and China, citing coronavirus concerns.