South Korea Warns of New Mass Infection After Church Flareup

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South Korea warned of another mass infection after reporting the highest number of coronavirus cases since early March, most of which are linked to a flareup at a church in the capital.

There were 445 cases reported over the weekend, bringing the total to 15,318, according to data from the Korea Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Of the new infections, 249 cases are tied to Sarang Jeil Church, described as a sect by more mainstream Christians. Authorities said on Sunday they will charge the pastor for violating self-quarantine rules and failing to cooperate with requests for a list of parishioners who needed testing.

South Korea Warns of New Mass Infection After Church Flareup

“The recent cases indicate that we are at an early stage of another wave of infections, and if we don’t keep them under control as much as possible, it can lead to serious consequences such as nationwide transmissions and a massive hike in the number of patients,” Minister of Health Park Neung-hoo said at a briefing Sunday.

The country had reported more than 5,000 infections related to a religious sect called Shincheongji between February and March, which made the nation the world’s second-worst hit by the virus at that time. The recent flareup linked to another religious group is raising concerns for health officials who say it’s tougher to trace and test the sect’s members, which could trigger a wider community transmission.

The spike prompted the government to raise its social-distancing alert to level 2 in the Seoul Metropolitan area after its daily Covid-19 tally reached a five-month high of 166 on Saturday. The alert, which will remain in effect for the next two weeks, prohibits operations of “high-risk” facilities, such as those allowing spectators at sporting events.

Of the 279 cases reported on Sunday, 245 infections were in the Seoul, Gyeonggi and Incheon region -- home to almost half of South Korea’s population, while 12 were imported. Fatalities remained at 305, the CDC said.

South Korea Raises Social-Distancing Alert as Virus Cases Spike

South Korea has maintained one of developed countries’ lowest rates of infection and deaths since the early days of the pandemic. Seoul has managed to avoid to restrictive lockdowns through rapid testing and thorough contact tracing.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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