A South Korean megachurch has been linked to a fresh surge in Covid-19 cases, as an additional 279 infections were reported on Sunday alone. On Monday, a further 197 cases were recorded - it is the highest infection rate seen in the country since March.
According to the Seoul metropolitan government, at least 312 of the new cases have been linked to Seoul's Sarang Jeil Church.
"Of [Sarang Jeil's] 4,000 churchgoers... 3,400 have been placed in quarantine and 2,000 have been screened," said Vice Health Minister Kim Ganglip, according to the Yonhap News Agency. "Of this, 312 have tested positive... a high positive rate of 16.1 per cent." The backlash against the church has been swift, with hundreds of thousands signing a petition urging the authorities to arrest the church's senior pastor, Rev Jun Kwang-hoo.
Kwang-hoo, a staunch conservative and outspoken critic of President Moon, has been accused of “obstructing” an official medical investigation into the outbreak among his church members, along with violating quarantine rules by attending a rally at the weekend - over 4,000 members of Rev Jun’s church has been ordered to self-isolate for two weeks and while they undergo testing.
At the rally, Rev Jun appeared to blame an outside force for causing the virus outbreak. "They poured the virus on our church,” he said, though it was unclear who exactly he was referring to.
President Moon has warned that “stern and strong measures” will be imposed against “some churches" who flout the rules, noting that their behaviour is an “unforgivable act that threatens public lives".
This is not the first time a church has been accused of becoming an epicentre of Covid-19 transmission. Earlier this month, the leader of the Shincheonji Church, Lee Man-hee, was arrested after being accused of withholding information about his congregants and gatherings from contact tracers.
Lee Man-hee hit the headlines in March after issuing an emotional apology for his role in perpetuating the spread of Covid-19 - over half of the country's initial cases were proven to have originated at his church.