South Korean sect leader apologises over COVID-19 spread

South Korean sect leader apologises over COVID-19 spread

Seoul city authorities have filed a murder complaint against Shincheonji leader Lee Man-hee for
Seoul city authorities have filed a murder complaint against Shincheonji leader Lee Man-hee for failing to cooperate in containing the epidemic. (Photo: POOL / AFP)

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 man-hee bowing
Lee Man-hee, leader of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, bows during a press conference at a facility of the church in Gapyeong on Mar 2, 2020. The leader of a South Korean sect linked to more than half the country's 4,000-plus coronavirus cases apologised on March 2 for the spread of the disease. (Photo: POOL / AFP)

Lee said he was told he had tested negative for the virus, Reuters reported.

READ: Murder probe sought for South Korea sect at centre of COVID-19 outbreak

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.

READ: Shincheonji: The secretive sect in South Korea's COVID-19 outbreak

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.

Source: Agencies/aa

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