(SEOUL, South Korea) — South Korean health officials said Tuesday that they have found 457 coronavirus cases linked to a huge Seoul church led by a bitter critic of the country’s president, driving an alarming surge of infections in the greater capital area.
Kwon Jun-wook, director of South Korea’s National Health Institute, said outbreaks at the Sarang Jeil Church and elsewhere have pushed the country into the biggest crisis yet since the emergence of COVID-19.
He said a failure to slow transmissions in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, home to nearly 26 million people, could create a situation comparable to the “miserable scenes of the United States or European countries.”
There’s concern that the virus’s spread could worsen after thousand of protesters, including members of the church and its ultra-right pastor, Jun Kwang-hun, marched in downtown Seoul on Saturday. Jun, who was unmasked and shared a microphone with several anti-government activists on a stage during the protest, tested positive on Monday and is now receiving treatment at a Seoul hospital.
Health officials have so far tested 2,500 of the church’s 4,000 members, but they expressed concern that many of them are refusing to come forward for testing. Police are pursuing some 800 church members who have been out of contact.
South Korea reported 246 new cases of the coronavirus on Tuesday, raising its total for the last five days to 959.