A mysterious religious group is at the center of an explosion of new coronavirus cases, strengthening the case that our globalized world is not ready for a large-scale outbreak.
Followers of South Korea’s Shincheonji Church of Jesus make up half of the nearly 350 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country, health officials cited by The New York Times said.
Now, over 1,250 members of the group — which mainstream South Korean churches consider a cult, according to The Times — are reporting possible symptoms of the hyper-contagious virus.
Shincheonji’s website claims the church has over 300 operational centers, with a presence on every continent except Antarctica. The novel coronavirus would seemingly spread like wildfire in the church’s crowded gatherings, where members usually forego masks to loudly shout hymns.
“We were not supposed to have anything on our faces, like glasses or masks. We were trained to sing our hymns loudly,” one former member told The Times. “We were taught not to be afraid of illness.”
One Shencheonji follower, known as Patient No. 31, was admitted to a hospital in South Korea in early February after a car crash, The Times reported. Although she eventually developed symptoms of the virus known as COVID-19, the woman was still able to escape the hospital multiple times to attend packed church services.
The city where the patient was admitted, Daegu, was labeled a special zone after an outbreak threatened the 2.5 million residents. Eventually, a test confirmed that the mystery illness affecting Patient No. 31 was the dreaded novel coronavirus.
There’s no telling where this church member was first infected, but there are reports of Shencheonji opening a center in Wuhan — ground zero of the outbreak.
According to the church’s leader there is little to worry about, as he claims the prophecies of the Book of Revelation have been completed.
According to California’s Orange County Register, founder Lee Man-hee says that Jesus Christ appeared to him and gifted the Shincheonji leader with unique insight into the “end-times” prophecies of the Bible.
Some say that Lee considers himself a prophet, and even the second coming of Jesus. Regardless of his claimed divine affiliation, there’s no doubt that his followers are in grave danger.
Video out of South Korea shows mobile decontamination units spraying disinfectant outside of his Daegu church.
VIDEO: People in Daegu, South Korea, voice their concerns after a spike in new coronavirus cases. More than 80 members of Shincheonji Church of Jesus have now been infected. Daegu is the country’s fourth-biggest city, with a population of over 2.5 million pic.twitter.com/ufKoK7CBfy
— AFP news agency (@AFP) February 21, 2020
The discovery of the church’s involvement in the virus’ spread comes as South Korea and other nations struggle to contain outbreaks.
Partial lockdowns have now been declared in parts of Italy and South Korea as cases spiked in those countries. China remains the most affected region, and at one point had over 700 million in quarantine.
Measures to combat the virus have ranged from complete quarantines to partial lockdowns.
In 12 Italian towns, cafes, schools, and transportation hubs have been shuttered.
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