S.Korea sect leader apologises over COVID-19 spread

Seoul: The founder of a minor religious sect at the centre of a rapid increase in coronavirus cases in South Korea on Monday apologized for the spread of the disease and vowed to fully cooperate with the government efforts to combat it.

“As the representative of Shincheonji followers, I sincerely apologize to the public,” Yonhap News Agency quoted Lee Man-hee, founder and leader of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, as saying in a press conference.

“It wasn’t our intention, but many people were infected.”

He bowed down on his knees before reporters in the middle of the news conference in Gapyeong, some 60 km east of Seoul, as a number of protesters shouted insults and slogans demanding Lee take responsibility.

“We will do our best to support the government-led disease-control measures with all our resources,” said the 88-year-old.

Lee’s statement came a day after the Seoul Metropolitan Government said it has filed a suit against Lee and other Shincheonji leaders on charges of homicide and inflicting injury, reports Yonhap News Agency.

The Daegu branch of the Shincheonji church in the southeastern city has been suspected of being the epicentre of the recent spike in the number of infections.

The nation’s 31st patient, a follower of the religious group in Daegu, was confirmed to be infected with the COVID-19 virus on February 18.

The 61-year-old woman reportedly visited a Daegu church four times before and after she experienced symptoms of coronavirus.

Since then, Daegu, a metropolis of 2.4 million people about 300 kilometers southeast of Seoul, has become the biggest cluster of mass infection in the country.

The total number of coronavirus infections reached 4,212 as of Monday, with 3,801 patients from Daegu alone, with 26 deaths.

The number of confirmed cases is expected to increase in the coming days as health authorities have begun testing about 310,000 members of Shincheonji.

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