Fight With South Korea Outbreak Church Fuels Rebound for Moon

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South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s approval rating rose for the first time in three months after he took on a church at the center of a new coronavirus wave -- a jump similar to one in March when he confronted a separate sect over an outbreak.

Moon’s support surged 8 percentage points to 47% in a weekly tracking poll released Friday from Gallup Korea -- the highest level since mid-July and up from a record low last week. The rebound may be temporary with many respondents faulting Moon for not doing enough to tackle runaway housing prices, an issue that had driven a recent decline in his approval rating.

Fight With South Korea Outbreak Church Fuels Rebound for Moon

The jump came after the Moon administration implemented measures against the Sarang Jeil Presbyterian Church, which has been connected to the latest surge in infections. South Korea this week saw its biggest daily tally since March and the flareup has raised concerns that the country -- once seen as successfully containing the virus -- could be losing control.

Moon on Friday called for “strict law enforcement” that includes arresting those who illegally act against the government’s quarantine measures, according to the presidential website.

Moon’s administration has been lauded globally for containing outbreaks without a lockdown, relying on rapid testing and contact-tracing. His progressive camp scored a landslide victory in parliamentary elections in April, showing to political leaders around the world that effective virus management can translate into votes.

Fight With South Korea Outbreak Church Fuels Rebound for Moon

Authorities said they would charge the pastor of Sarang Jeil for violating public health laws, accusing him of breaking self-quarantine rules and failing to provide lists of parishioners for testing. Almost 4,000 members of the church have been gathering for recent services, despite government requests to stop. The pastor has tested positive for the virus, Yonhap News Agency reported, citing an unidentified health official.

Moon pledged to “take decisive actions, including coercive measures” against the church. He has also said the outbreak linked to Sarang Jeil was the biggest challenge faced by health officials since a similar incident involving the Shincheonji sect five months ago briefly made South Korea the country with the second-most infections in the world.

Fight With South Korea Outbreak Church Fuels Rebound for Moon

As of Thursday, 739 people linked to the Sarang Jeil church were confirmed positive for the virus, health authorities said. Thousands of members gathered for a weekend rally in central Seoul, sparking a new backlash and raising worries those attending could spread infections to more parts of the country. So far, at least 60 of those who took part have tested positive, according the country’s health ministry.

Sarang Jeil pastor Jun Kwang-hoon, a critic of Moon, took out advertisements in major newspapers trying to stem public anger. In them, he said he was being mistreated by the government.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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