South Korea’s religious sect leader seeks forgiveness for ‘unintentional’ coronavirus spike

People watch a press conference held by Lee Man-hee, founder of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony, in Seoul

Seoul [South Korea], Mar 3 (ANI): The leader of a religious sect that has been at the epicenter of a sudden surge in South Korea's coronavirus infections has sought forgiveness for 'unintentionally' spreading the virus
In his first public appearance since the outbreak that has claimed 28 lives and infected more than 4,800 people in the East Asian country, leader of the Shincheonji sect, Lee Man-hee, said on Monday that it was "not the time for casting blame on anyone," adding that his religious organisation was "fully cooperating with health authorities," Al Arabiya reported.
The 88-year-old also claimed that government officials had denied requests to hold the press conference inside the church complex.
Health authorities in the country zeroed in on the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in Daegu, where it has since mushroomed into the largest epidemic of the coronavirus outside China.
According to local media reports, worshipers sit packed together on the floor and forbidden to wear glasses -- or face masks. They come to church even when sick and after services, they split up into groups for Bible study, or to go out into the streets and proselytise.
"We've opened up the list of names of our believers and agreed for a full-out investigation," Lee said.
"Our believers of our church are like children; what kind of parent will sit still when such a scary disease that brings death is going around?" he added.
South Korea's coronavirus infections surged after a woman, dubbed Patient 31, was found to have attended two worship services with at least 1,000 other members of the Shincheonji sect.
Since then, the number of cases nationally has spiked, with the majority in the region of Daegu, a city about 150 miles south of Seoul where the church is based.
South Korea has launched a manhunt to find other members who may be infected, but the sect's role in the epidemic has seen it fiercely criticised.
According to The New York Times, the members of the church were told to lie about being followers after the first coronavirus infection was reported, though the church later said that was not its policy.
Lee, who wore a white mask and fogged glasses, stood up in the middle of his speech to make his way next to the desk before kneeling and bowing his head to the ground over clasped hands, a significant gesture of contrition in Korean custom.
"I don't know how this happened, but we will make the utmost of efforts, and we are aware that we were wrong," Lee said.
"We thank the government for making efforts when what we had tried to stop the coronavirus spread wasn't enough," he noted.
Earlier on Monday, South Korea's Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said about 57 per cent of all patients infected with the novel coronavirus was affiliated with the religion that Lee founded.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government has formally asked prosecutors to investigate Lee and other sect leaders on charges including murder and negligence for not doing enough to stop the outbreak.
The virus, which emerged in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year, is spreading throughout the world. The World Health Organisation has declared it as a health emergency. (ANI)

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