S Korea struggles to find members of religious sect at heart of outbreak

By Edward White and Kang Buseong in Seoul and Kana Inagaki in Tokyo

South Korea reported 256 new cases of coronavirus on Friday morning as officials struggle to locate members of pseudo-Christian sect at the heart of the country’s outbreak.

South Korea, which is the worst country affected outside China, has now recorded 13 deaths and 2,022 confirmed cases, according to the latest data from the Korea Centers for Disease Control.

The South Korean outbreak has centred on Daegu, the country’s fourth-biggest city, where most cases have been linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus.

The South Korean government has pledged to test the sect’s 215,000 South Korean members and has received a list of their names in recent days.

However, Park Won-soon, the Seoul mayor, has said that about 1,500 of the group’s members in Seoul have so far not responded to phone calls.

“Shincheonji, with its secretive nature, does not reveal where it is and what it does. This is not different from manslaughter by negligence as transparency is most important in prevention measures,” he said.

The increase in cases on Friday followed a jump of more than 500 confirmed cases on Thursday, as the country’s rate of confirmed infections appeared to outpace that of China.

The South Korean infection rate comes on the back of a sharp increase in testing. Tests have been carried out on nearly 45,000 people and more than 24,000 are being tested.

That compares with neighbouring Japan, where there have been 186 confirmed cases and 2,058 tests carried out, according to the Japanese health ministry.

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