Thousands of members of a secret religious sect in South Korea They are being examined to detect the new coronavirus after more than 430 cases were confirmed in the country by officials, one of several new groups of the disease worldwide.
More than 78,000 people worldwide have been infected by the Covid-19 virus, and most cases on the continent China, although groups with unclear origins have emerged in Singapore, Iran and South Korea.
In Iran, a fifth death was confirmed on Saturday, which led Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization, to say he was especially concerned about the country. So far, 28 cases have been identified in four cities, but experts have speculated that many more infections are likely to remain undetected, and it is believed that cases that have appeared in Canada and Lebanon are linked to Iran. It is believed that infections in the country began in the city of Qom, but it is not clear how.
There is also uncertainty in Singapore, where eight of the 85 infections appear to have no links to previous cases, and in South Korea, where links to a controversial church are investigated.
On Saturday, Ghebreyesus expressed concern about the cases that have been identified in which a patient has not had contact with a confirmed infected person and has not traveled to China.
“Although the total number of Covid-19 cases outside of China remains relatively small, we are concerned about the number of cases without a clear epidemiological link,” he said.
Most people who get the disease experience mild symptoms, making transmission difficult. The mortality rate of the virus is approximately 2%, according to initial data from China.
Andrew Tatem, professor of geography and environmental sciences at the University of Southampton, said: “Before the recent news of apparent outbreaks in South Korea, Italy and Iran, it seemed that the relatively low number of cases outside of China and without any link to travel there pointed to the hope that the virus could be contained. This recent news, particularly regarding Iran, is especially worrying. “
In the South Korean city of Daegu, where most of the country’s cases are found. have been concentrated, officials are competing to detect the faithful who believe they may have been exposed to the virus in a service run by a controversial church. The 2.5 million people in the city have been advised to remain in their homes if possible, while officials send medical supplies and clinical staff. In Daegu and nearby areas, 354 cases have been recorded.
Yoon-sook Lee, a restaurant owner in Yulha-dong, Daegu, said the city streets were deserted. “Those outside are half running as if they were in a hurry or persecuted,” he said, adding that people had been collecting water and instant noodles.
“I am beginning to feel panic because I am worried about my family. I have young children, so I am worried about them. I am also very concerned about how long this will last, as it will affect our family’s income,” he said. Its restaurant offers catering for events, but all orders have been canceled.
Around 230 cases in South Korea have been linked to the Daegu branch of the Shincheonji Jesus Church, while many cases in a mental health room at Cheongdo hospital may also be related to the sect. The exact source of these infections remains unclear. While health officials are trying to locate more than 1,000 people who had contact with a 61-year-old woman who attended church services, it is believed that the virus was present before she tested positive.
The church said in a statement on its website that it had more than 120 students in China enrolled in its Bible course but had no physical building or meeting place.
“Church leaders have told us that this is proof of the devil because he is jealous of the expansion of our church and I think that is the case,” said one of the church members, who asked not to be identified but He said she had not attended the service linked to the outbreak. “I hope this situation strengthens our church. We are persecuted by other people as they are, so this situation is even more difficult for us. “
Many accuse the church of being a cult and its members often remain distant from strangers and do not reveal their beliefs to family and friends. His leadership has shared the names of the people who attended his services with the authorities, and about 1,000 are being assigned to a government worker to control any symptoms. However, the secret surrounding the sect means that such contact tracking work is even more challenging.
The faithful attend small local services twice a week, as well as larger meetings, such as the Daegu service linked to the current case group. These larger services can attract hundreds of people across the country, where the church has a total of 230,000 members. Attendees kneel together on the floor, sing and shake hands with those around them.
The church said it had closed all branches and centers and disinfected its facilities. The members sat on the floor in the services to allow as many people as possible to attend, he added.
Throughout the city, large meetings were banned and daycare centers were closed, while soldiers were forbidden to leave their barracks after several soldiers tested positive. A Samsung plant in Gumi, near Daegu, which employs hundreds of people also closed after a worker tested positive.
Italy has recorded two deaths related to the virus, which led officials to place dozens of cities in Lombardy and Veneto, in the north of the country, under an effective blockade. The numbers of confirmed cases in the country have increased to 52.
In China, where more than 2,300 people died in the outbreak, there were 397 additional cases on Friday.
Tedros said the biggest concern remained Covid-19’s potential to spread in countries with weaker health systems.
Associated Press contributed to this report.
IMAGE CREDITS | HERE