Over half of all confirmed cases in South Korea are connected to the Daegu branch of the Shincheonji religious group, according to South Korean authorities.
In total, 1,557 cases — or 53.1% of South Korea’s total cases — are connected to the group. The vast majority of those are in the city of Daegu.
There are 2,931 total coronavirus cases in South Korea, and 2,055 of them in Daegu. Of the cases in Daegu, 1,356 are connected with the group.
What is the Shincheonji religious group?
Shincheonji Church of Jesus, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony was established on March 14, 1984, by Lee and is centered around the personality of its founder. Little is known about his past.
The group — which is an offshoot of Christianity — says it has about 245,000 members more than 31,000 of them from overseas.
Why would the virus have spread through the group?
According to former member Duhyen Kim, attendance at services was mandatory. Members need to swipe in and out of services with a special card, and any absence was followed up on. Sickness was not a reason to miss services.
He describes how, when he was a member, followers would sit on the floor during hours-long services “packed together like sardines.”
And according to Kim, attendees are not allowed to wear anything on their faces — even glasses — during prayer time.
How has the group handled the outbreak?
There’s been heavy criticism of the group’s level of transparency. South Korea’s Gyeonggi provincial governor, Lee Jae-myung, said in a radio interview with Korean station TBS, that the Shincheonji group had not initially cooperated with officials as promised.
Daegu police deployed 600 officers to find hundreds of members, knocking on doors, tracking phones and scouring security camera footage to find them, and asking them to self-isolate.
Members of the public signed an online petition filed to the president’s office calling for Shincheonji to be dissolved.
But Shincheonji says it has close to 1,100 buildings and is disinfecting them to try to stem the spread of the virus. It also says it is cooperating with local authorities, and has shut down all church services and gatherings.
Read more about how the virus spread through the group here.