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A little known cult is S.Korea's latest COVID-19 outbreak

2021-11-26 Source:www.reuters.com Author:Sangmi Cha

SEOUL, Nov 24 (Reuters) - A little known sect led by a pastor who pokes eyes to heal is at the centre of a COVID-19 outbreak in South Korea, as the country reported a new daily record of 4,116 cases and battles a spike in serious cases straining hospitals.


A church in a religious community where many people had tested positive for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is seen in Cheonan, South Korea, November 23, 2021. Picture taken November 23, 2021. Yonhap via REUTERS

In a tiny rural church in a town of 427 residents in Cheonan city, south of Seoul, at least 241 people linked to the religious community had tested positive for coronavirus, a city official told Reuters on Wednesday.

"We believe the scale of the outbreak is large...," the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency (KDCA) said in a statement.

About 90% of the religious community was unvaccinated and the majority were in close contact through communal living.

Many of the congregation were elderly in their 60s and above and were unvaccinated, the city official said. Just 17 out of the 241 confirmed cases had been vaccinated.

"I believe it's the church's anti-government beliefs that refrained the believers to get the vaccine," the official said, adding that the town was put under a lockdown.

However, the KDCA said it was not possible to determine precisely why such a large number were unvaccinated, as the elderly and people with underlying conditions were not banned from inoculation.

The church opened in the early 1990s and has ever since become larger with communal living facilities of its own.

The religion is not officially registered as a sect, however the ritual act the pastor performs is known as the so called "imposition of hands on eyes", a practice of poking two eyes to rid of secular desire, Jung youn-seok, a head of cult information resources think tank told Reuters.

"Such act is extremely dangerous and nonbiblical. It is an outright ban in Korean Christianity," Jung said, adding that the pastor's mother was a powerful figure and was ousted from Christian community in the 1990s for practicing identical rituals.

Calls to the church from Reuters went unanswered.