The investigation was started amid a growing controversy over the secretive sect's uncooperative attitude toward the government's desperate efforts to track down people exposed to the new coronavirus and stop its rapid spread.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 322 new cases as of 9 p.m. Thursday, bringing the nation's total number of infections to 6,088. On Wednesday, it detected 438 additional cases.
Most of the new infections were again identified in Daegu and the neighboring North Gyeongsang Province, with a major cluster linked to the Daegu branch of the minor religious sect.
Six more patients died from the virus, raising the death toll to 42. The fatalities were mostly elderly patients with underlying illnesses.
The KCDC said a joint investigation team consisting of health authority officials and forensic analysis specialists from the Supreme Prosecutors' Office conducted a search of the Shincheonji headquarters located in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province, as municipalities have claimed that the lists of worshipers supplied by it were different from those each local government obtained from the church's branches.
This has raised suspicions that the church omitted information about some members when reporting to the government and municipalities.
"We decided to search the Shincheonji headquarters as some local governments have raised questions over the credibility of the lists supplied by the church," Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip told reporters during a briefing. "Precise information is essential for a thorough quarantine. The government gave prior notice of the search to the church the previous day."
The joint investigation team is checking lists of active members and trainees of the church, and their attendance records as well as addresses of facilities nationwide.
Kim noted that Health Minister Park Neung-hoo consulted with Justice Minister Choo Mi-ae in advance before starting the investigation.
With more than 80 percent of the country's coronavirus cases coming from Daegu and North Gyeongsang Province, the government, earlier in the day, designated Gyeongsan in the province as the nation's third "special care zone" for virus infections, after Daegu and Cheongdo were designated as such, Feb. 21.
The KCDC said more than 70 percent of North Gyeongsang Province's COVID-19 patients confirmed Tuesday came from Gyeongsan, noting that 135 Shincheonji followers out of 262 in the province were believed to reside there.
The government increases its monitoring and quarantine activities in the special care zones, and provides more medical resources and staff.
The KCDC added the government is allowing hospitals and pharmacies to check whether people have traveled to Italy and Iran amid soaring numbers of infections and deaths in those countries.
From now on, medical staff can check on a patients' travel history to those countries through the International Traveler information System and Drug Utilization Review.
Shincheonji cult donates W12 billion to fight coronavirus
Shincheonji ― the biggest culprit behind the coronavirus epidemic in South Korea ― has donated 12 billion won ($10.1 million) to help in the nationwide fight against the virus.
The mysterious cult, led by the self-proclaimed messiah Lee Man-hee, 89, said Thursday the money had been delivered to Community Chest of Korea, a local charity, hoping it will be used to help contain the spread of coronavirus in Daegu and surrounding North Gyeongsang Province.
The two regions are the epicenter of a spike in the nation's coronavirus infections ― the number of confirmed cases there account for nearly 90 percent of the total (5,766 as of noon Thursday).
The donation came three days after Lee made a public apology on Monday for his followers' role in spreading the disease ― nearly 60 percent of coronavirus patients are affiliated with the cult.
"We feel heavy responsibility for what's happening," Shincheonji wrote in a text message sent to reporters. "As our leader said in the press conference (on Monday), we will spare no human or material resources to support the fight against the epidemic."
You can tell the articles are from two different people lol. In the first one they are a church, and the second one refers to them as a cult.
source: The Korea Times 1 2