GAPYEONG, South Korea: The leader of a South Korean sect linked to around half of the country's 4,000-plus coronavirus cases apologised Monday (Mar 2) for the spread of the disease, calling the epidemic a "great calamity".
"I would like to offer my sincere apology to the people on behalf of the members," Shincheonji head Lee Man-hee told reporters in Gapyeong, his voice breaking, before bowing before them, his head to the floor.
"We did our best but was not able to stop the spread of the virus," Lee said, thanking the government's efforts to fight the outbreak.
Lee said he was told he had tested negative for the virus, Reuters reported.
A large majority of the more than 4,000 confirmed cases of the South Korean outbreak, the largest outside China and still growing, have been linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a secretive movement that reveres founder Lee.
Health authorities said the vast majority of the 3,000 cases confirmed in Daegu, another Korean city, were linked to a branch of the church there, where a person who had tested positive in February attended services twice.
Many have blamed the church's secretive nature and tightly packed conditions at services for the large number of cases linked to it.
An additional 600 cases were detected in the province surrounding Daegu.
South Korea's Centres for Disease Control and Prevention reported 476 new cases of the coronavirus on Monday, raising the total to 4,212 with 22 deaths.