South Korea Blames Pastor for Worst Coronavirus Outbreak in Months

In this April 20, 2020, photo, Sarang Jeil Church pastor Jun Kwang-hun speaks outside a detention center in Uiwang, South Korea. Jun who has been a bitter critic of the country's president has tested positive for the coronavirus health authorities said Monday, Aug. 17, two days after he participated in …
Ko Jun-beom/Newsis via AP

The Seoul city government said on Sunday it will take action against a conservative pastor accused of violating self-quarantine rules and obstructing authorities’ efforts to conduct contact tracing at a church where at least 319 new Chinese coronavirus cases have caused South Korea’s worst outbreak in over five months.

South Korea reported 279 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, the first time since March that the number of new daily infections surpassed 200. The majority of new cases are located in and around the capital, Seoul, and were traced to the Sarang Jeil Church, led by a conservative, anti-government pastor named Jun Kwang-hoon.

On Saturday, Jun led a massive anti-government rally in central Seoul attended by thousands of demonstrators – including many Sarang Jeil church members – who protested against leftist South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s policies. The demonstration defied a ban on large gatherings in the capital during the coronavirus pandemic and directly caused the spike in new cases over the weekend, according to health authorities.

“Cases traced to Sarang Jeil Church … reached 319 as of noon [Monday], up 70 cases from the previous day,” South Korea’s Central Disease Control Headquarters said.

“Of the 4,000 churchgoers whom authorities have identified as of midnight, 3,400 have been placed in quarantine and 2,000 have been screened. Of the total, 312 have tested positive, which translates to a high positive rate of 16.1 percent and calls for swift testing and quarantine,” Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said in a press briefing on Monday.

Pastor Jun has previously led multiple anti-government demonstrations in Seoul. He was arrested in February and indicted in March for allegedly violating the country’s election law by asking participants at a rally to support the country’s conservative bloc in then-upcoming elections.

Jun was released in April on the condition that he does not participate in any rallies related to the pending case, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News. His participation in Saturday’s rally directly violated the terms of his April release, according to prosecutors, who on Sunday asked a Seoul court to revoke bail for the pastor.

“The health ministry and the Seoul city government have filed a criminal complaint against Jun for breaking the Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act. Jun broke self-isolation measures and disturbed anti-infection efforts by submitting an inaccurate list of churchgoers, according to the city,” Yonhap reported on Monday.

“The government will take stern legal action against Jun to protect the lives and safety of our people in this grave COVID-19 [Chinese coronavirus] situation,” South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said Sunday. President Moon condemned Sarang Jeil church members on Sunday for attending Saturday’s rally, saying they had participated in an “unforgivable act that threatens the lives of the people.”

On Monday, health authorities said Pastor Jun tested positive for coronavirus and will be treated in a quarantine facility.

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