A conservative South Korean pastor, a bitter critic of the country’s president, has tested positive for the novel coronavirus, two days after he participated in an anti-government protest in Seoul that drew thousands.
More than 400 virus cases have been linked to Reverand Jun Kwang-hun’s huge church in northern Seoul, which has emerged as a large cluster of infections amid growing fears of an enormous outbreak in the greater capital region.
Officials are concerned the virus’s spread could worsen after thousands of demonstrators, including Jun and members of his Sarang Jeil Church, marched in downtown Seoul on Saturday despite pleas from officials to stay home.
“After a member of Sarang Jeil Church first tested positive on August 12, 123 more were identified on Monday, raising the number of cases to 438, which includes 282 in Seoul,” Park Yu-mi, the capital city government’s director of public health, was quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency.
Jun’s church has become South Korea’s second-biggest virus cluster, behind a branch of the secretive Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the southeastern city of Daegu that was tied to more than 5,000 cases following a surge of infections in the region in late February and March.
Churches have been a constant source of infections, with many failing to require worshippers to wear masks, or allowing them to sing in choirs or eat together.
“We’re seeing the current situation as an initial stage of a large-scale transmission,” Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), told a news briefing on Monday.
“We’re facing a crisis where if the current spread isn’t controlled, it would bring an exponential rise in cases, which could in turn lead to the collapse of our medical system and enormous economic damage.”
South Korea reported 246 new cases of the virus on Tuesday, the fifth straight day of triple-digit increases.
Most of the new cases in the past few days have come from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, home to about half of the country’s 51 million people.