South Korea links more than 200 Covid cases to religious settlement

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South Korean officials said on Tuesday that they had closed a religious facility in the city of Cheonan after 210 of its 427 residents tested positive for the coronavirus this week, an outbreak that comes when the country’s fall rises to record levels.

At least 191 residents of the settlement who contracted the virus were unvaccinated, said Lee Sunhee, head of the infectious disease control team for Cheonan, in southern Chungcheong province. Officials did not release the name of the religious organization, citing disease control laws designed to protect privacy.

Churches around the world has been at the center of several outbreaks throughout the pandemic. In South Korea is Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which many South Koreans consider a sect, was associated with more than 5,000 cases that drove the country’s first virus wave. Officials have blamed on the Church for having obstructed efforts to combat the pandemic by not providing a complete list of its members to the Government.

Since then, South Korea has largely avoided major outbreaks and slowly begun to reopen to some visitors. While falls have risen to record levels over the past two weeks – reaching 4,116 daily infections on Tuesday, the highest since the pandemic – they have remained relatively low compared to large parts of the world: six daily cases per 100,000 people, compared with 29 in the US, 36 in Singapore and 159 in Austria.

“The situation itself is not that bad nationwide,” said Kwon Jun-wook, deputy director of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency and director of the Korea National Institute of Health, last week, adding that it “was not serious enough to justify stop the reopening. “

But officials have said the number of serious cases has placed a burden on the country’s health system. Intensive care units have reached 77 percent capacity in and around Seoul in the past week, KDCA chief Jeong Eun-kyeong said on Monday.

Due to increasing Covid hospital admissions, the government planned to secure more than 260 beds for people with serious illnesses, Central Disaster Management Headquarters said on Wednesday.

The members of the religious settlement in Cheonan lived and worshiped together. About 70 of them had attended a major kimchi manufacturing event on November 15 and 16, said Kim Eunchong, an official in the Department of Infectious Disease Control at the provincial health office.

Mr Kim said these cases have made the settlement the site of the largest cluster of coronavirus cases the province has ever registered – and some residents have not yet been tested.

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