South Korea warned its citizens this week that they could be facing a wave of new novel coronavirus outbreaks after a church reported more than 300 congressional members being infected. The Sarang Jeil Church in Seoul is responsible for what is now South Korea’s largest outbreak of Covid-19 in six months.
Now, the country is tightening their social distancing rules and discussing even more potential lockdown measures for the upcoming weeks. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported a total of 197 new cases this past Saturday (8/14).
Besides this recent outbreak, South Korea has been one of the world’s only countries to almost completely eradicate the virus, and has acted as a success story of inspiration for other countries and their handling of the pandemic. Spikes in infections have occurred consistently throughout the entire pandemic, however, the country handled each spike with strict quarantine enforcement and intense contact tracing to get to the source of every outbreak.
South Korea has endured 15,515 positive cases of Covid-19 and 305 deaths since the beginning of the pandemic. KCDC director Jeong Eun-Kyeong recently offered an update to the press and citizens of South Korea regarding the recent outbreak.
“We’re seeing the current situation as an initial stage of a large-scale transmission. We’re facing a crisis where if the current spread isn’t controlled, it would bring an exponential rise in cases.”
This rise in cases could lead to a complete collapse of South Korea’s medical system and do some major damage to its economy, according to Eun-Kyeong. The outbreak at the Seoul church parallels a similar incident that occurred at a Christian sect church in the city of Daegu in February. That outbreak became South Korea’s deadliest cluster of Covid-19 cases, as authorities struggled to contain it due to a reluctance from members of the congregation in wanting to cooperate with contact tracing; something that’s also occurring with the new outbreak.
The vice health minister of South Korea, Kim Gang-Lip, recently spoke with the media about this lack of cooperation and claimed that the church provided inaccurate lists of it’s 4,000+ members. 320 of those members have already tested positive for Covid-19, and more than 600 members – who authorities want to quarantine themselves due to their close-contact with the other 320 infected members – are currently unaccounted for.
The leader of the church is named Jun. He’s 64-years-old and a conservative activist who has spent the past few months organizing anti-government rallies that are in defiance of the government orders for all church members to self-isolate and get tested. These protests have also raised a lot of concerns among healthcare professionals, as they believe participants are getting infected during these gatherings.
The ban on church services was lifted in South Korea in April, although participants were required to register for each service and continue to social distance. Because of this, Jun’s lawyers claim that he did not violate any quarantine rules nor intentionally provide inaccurate information to authorities regarding members and their health status’.
Kim stated to the press that if the rate of new infections doesn’t start to go down after this week the government would be tightening their lockdown measures which would likely shut down all indoor meetings of 50 people or more, and outdoor gatherings of 100 or more. The health ministry has also filed a formal complaint against Jun specifically for violating quarantine rules and “obstructing contact tracing by failing to provide a full list of members” to authorities.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.