Health authorities seek to secure list of church’s congregation, new hotbed of COVID-19
SEOUL, South Korean health officials have been trying to get hold of the full list of members of a church at the center of coronavirus outbreaks poised to spread nationwide.
Officials from the Korea Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (KCDC), accompanied by police officers, conducted a nearly 10-hour search operation at Sarang Jeil Church in Seoul overnight, as the original list of 900 members the church submitted to authorities was deemed incorrect.
The move comes as a recent spike in infection cases in Seoul and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province is tied to the church.
Pastor Jun Kwang-hoon of the church took part in a massive anti-government rally attended by approximately 20,000 people at Gwanghwamun Square, central Seoul, on Saturday, leading church members and his political followers from around the country. It is not known exactly how many of the church congregants participated in the event. Jun and several of his aides tested positive after the rally.
The officials got into the church, located in the northern ward of Seongbuk, at around 5 p.m. Thursday, after they tried unsuccessfully in their first attempt in the morning.
Once they entered the church, they initially faced strong protest from church officials who demanded a search and seizure warrant. The search began at 8 p.m. and finished around 3:30 a.m.
Around 30 congregants gathered in front of the church while the search operation was going on. Some right-wing YouTubers who were at the scene spread misinformation that police were trying to tear down the church, which provoked angry responses from worshipers.
An official from the ward office said the original list of 900 congregants was not “correct.”
It is considered hard to know the exact size of its congregation. According to a person who is familiar with the church, the total number is estimated to be around 2,000-3,000. In one text message that the church sent out outside, the number was 4,000.
The church and pastor Jun have been magnets for conservatives critical of the Moon Jae-in government who flock to the church from around the country to attend Jun’s sermons and political rallies.
As of Friday morning, 739 coronavirus infections have been tied to the church, and transmissions have continued through religious facilities and workplaces around the country, according to the KCDC.
The KCDC has been contact tracing and doing epidemiological studies in some 150 places linked to the church cluster, the country’s second biggest since the outbreak in the Shincheonji Church of Jesus earlier this year.
The country reported 324 new cases Friday, the eighth straight day of triple-digit jumps and the first time that the number passed the 300 mark since March 8 when it recorded 367 infection cases. The country’s total caseload is 16,670.
Source: Yonhap News Agency