Churches are becoming South Korea's coronavirus battleground

New Delhi, IndiaEdited By: Gravitas deskUpdated: Sep 19, 2020, 08:42 AM IST

Rev. Jun Kwang-hoon, who is the head of the Sarang Jeil Church in Seoul, which is at the center of the new wave of infections, speaks to the media before being imprisoned in front of his church in Seoul, South Korea Photograph:(Reuters)

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Despite being hailed for its gold-standard response against COVID-19, South Korea fell is battling a massive surge in cases because of a church for the second time.

The way obsessive piety has crippled the fight against the Wuhan virus shows that reason cannot triumph religion.

Despite being hailed for its gold-standard response against COVID-19, South Korea fell is battling a massive surge in cases because of a church for the second time.

A fresh wave of infections erupted at a church in Seoul whose members attended a large protest in mid-August, becoming the country's largest cluster in the greater capital area. The outbreak has driven triple-digit increases in daily COVID-19 cases for more than a month.

The metropolitan government in South Korea's capital Seoul said on Friday it would seek $4 million in damages against a church for causing the spread of the coronavirus by disrupting tracing and testing efforts.

The Seoul city government said it will file a lawsuit against the Sarang Jeil Church and its leader, Rev. Jun Kwang-hoon, accusing them of disrupting coronavirus tests and providing inaccurate lists of its members which it said aggravated the latest epidemic.

"The city is seeking to hold the church and the pastor responsible for contributing to the nationwide re-spread of COVID-19 by refusing and hindering epidemiological surveys or aiding and abetting such acts, as well as submitting false materials," it said in a statement.

Calls to the church seeking comment went unanswered. Jun, a harsh critic of the government, was re-imprisoned early this month for attending the August 15 rally in violation of his bail in April, when he participated in an illegal political protest ahead the parliamentary election and was indicted on charges of breaking election laws.

The cluster has inflicted government losses totalling at least $11.3 million the city said.

The National Health Insurance Service has also said it will sue the church for indemnity worth $4.7 million.

The Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported 126 new cases as of midnight Thursday, which brought the total infections to 22,783, with 377 deaths.

The numbers, which peaked at 441, have steadily fallen to the low 100s after the government imposed unprecedented social distancing curbs late last month.

But authorities remained on high alert ahead of a major traditional holiday next week when usually tens of millions of Koreans travel across the country, urging restraint on trips and gatherings.

"The holiday period will be a pivotal moment in our anti-virus campaign," said Yoon Tae-ho, director-general for public health policy at the health ministry.

History repeats itself

South Korea had reported a similar outbreak in March when a church used an unclean bottle sprayed saltwater into the mouths of people visiting the place of worship. The gathering took place on March 8 at the River of Grace Community Church in Seongnam near Seoul.

Out of the 135 followers of the church, 46 people who attended the event later contracted coronavirus, including the pastor and his wife.

The pastor of the church, Kim, reportedly apologised for spreading the infection.

''I feel deeply sorry about what has happened. I will take all the blame and responsibility'', Kim told Yonhap News Agency.

The pastor also suggested that he intends to retire once the pandemic is over.