The church is linked to the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, a religious movement and organization in South Korea that began in 1984.
According to the latest data from the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering, there are 104 cases of the coronavirus in South Korea. That means that 41% of all cases in the country are linked to the Shincheonji Church. There has only been one confirmed death due to the coronavirus in South Korea. The victim, a man in his 60s who was hospitalized in Cheongdo County in the North Gyeongsang Province, died Wednesday.
The Shincheonji Church has temporarily shut down and urged its followers to participate in online prayer sessions, according to a report by the South China Morning Post. In addition, the church, which is described as a cult by some in South Korea, has said it will cooperate closely with health authorities. Pastor Shin Hyun Uk, who is an anti-cult campaigner, has expressed concern that there may be more coronavirus cases linked to the Shincheonji Church, which he said frequently engages in evangelical campaigns.
“Their so-called ‘harvesters’ go to other Christian churches, take part in prayer sessions there and engage in other activities in order to woo away ordinary believers,” he told the South China Morning Post.
“I doubt whether the church would come clean about the movements of its believers … and cooperate with authorities in tracing contacts for fear that it would reveal their secret evangelistic activities. This is really a worrisome situation,” he added.
An interview with local newspaper Nocut News, an unidentified Shincheonji follower revealed how the 31st South Korean person to become infected with the virus made close contact with others during prayer sessions, the South China Morning Post added.
“We were told to remove face masks while attending prayer sessions,” the unidentified follower told Nocut News, also noting that the 31st patient, a 61-year-old woman, continued praying at the church while displaying symptoms she brushed off as the results of a cold.
Daegu Mayor Kwon Young Jin on Thursday revealed that around 90 Shincheonji followers who participated in prayer sessions with the 31st patient said they have coronavirus symptoms. They have been directed to quarantine themselves at home.
“We’ve been tracing all the 1,001 people who took part in prayer sessions together,” he told journalists, the South China Morning Post reported.
Kwon has also advised Daegu’s 2.5 million residents to avoid spending time in public and even suggested that they wear masks indoors. He also expressed concern over the increasing number of coronavirus cases in the country and requested urgent help from the national government.
The new coronavirus first began spreading in mainland China’s Wuhan some time between December 12 and December 29. So far, at least more than 75,000 people worldwide have been infected with the virus, and more than 2,000 have died as a result, according to the Johns Hopkins University Center for Systems Science and Engineering.