The leader of a Christian sect at the centre of a
coronavirus outbreak in South Korea is facing criminal charges,
including murder, for allegedly obstructing efforts to control the
Lee Man Hee, the founder and spiritual leader of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, and 12 of his followers are accused of withholding the names of sect members who may have been infected with the virus, and therefore obstructing health authorities' efforts to contain the outbreak.
Prosecutors in Seoul say the sect violated laws related to stopping the spread of infectious diseases, and should therefore be considered responsible for the deaths of some of the victims.
South Korea has seen the number of confirmed coronavirus cases explode in the last week. The number jumped again to more than 4,000 on Monday. Twenty-two people have died. The worst-affected area is the south-eastern city of Daegu, with the branch of the Shincheonji Church there suspected of being a major spreader of the disease.
Lee, who is 88, on Monday apologized for not reacting to the outbreak quickly enough. "It wasn't our intention, but many people were infected," he said at a press conference outside Seoul, according to Yonhap News Agency. "We will do our best to support the government-led disease-control measures with all our resources," he was cited as saying.
The specific link between the virus and the sect related to a 61-year-old member, who took part in services at the church in Daegu despite displaying symptoms of Covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. Some members of the sect had apparently visited the central Chinese city of Wuhan, the epicentre of the outbreak and the first place where the virus was recorded, in January. The church said it had closed all of its branches throughout South Korea and handed over the names of all of its members to the authorities.
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