South Korean prosecutors yesterday arrested the elderly leader of a secretive religious sect as part of an investigation into allegations that the church hampered the government’s COVID-19 response after thousands of worshipers were infected in February and March.
Prosecutors in the central city of Suwon have been questioning 88-year-old Lee Man-hee, chairman of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, over charges that the church hid some members and underreported gatherings to avoid broader quarantines.
The Suwon District Court granted prosecutors’ request to arrest Lee over concerns that he could temper with evidence.
Photo: Yonhap via AP
Lee and his church have steadfastly denied the accusations, saying they are cooperating with health authorities. Its spokesperson, Kim Young-eun, said the church would do its best so that “the truth is clearly proved in court.”
More than 5,200 of South Korea’s 14,336 COVID-19 cases have been linked to the church so far. Its branch in the southern city of Daegu emerged as the biggest cluster after infections spiked in late February.
Health authorities aggressively tested and quarantined to contain the outbreak in Daegu and nearby towns by April, but the country has seen a resurgence of the virus in the Seoul metropolitan area since late May.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention yesterday reported 31 newly confirmed cases. At least 23 of them were tied to international arrivals.
The country has reported dozens of infections among South Korean constructions airlifted out of virus-ravaged Iraq and crew members of Russia-flagged cargo ships docked in the ports of Busan and Incheon.
In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region: India recorded the steepest spike of 57,118 new cases in the past 24 hours, taking its COVID-19 caseload close to 1.7 million, with July alone accounting for nearly 1.1 million infections. The Indian Ministry of Health and Family Welfare also reported 764 additional deaths for a total of 36,511.
The Indian Ministry of Civil Aviation delayed resumption of international flights by another month until Aug. 31, but it would continue to allow several international carriers from the US, Europe and the Middle East to operate special flights to evacuate stranded nationals.
Indian Minister of Health and Family Welfare Harsh Vardhan on Friday said that India achieved more than 1 million recoveries with active cases only one-third of the total.
India is conducting more than 640,000 tests in 24 hours, taking cumulative tests across the country to nearly 1.9 million, he said.
The Australian state of Victoria has recorded three more COVID-19 deaths and 397 additional cases, a significant drop from this week’s high.
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said he understood the latest deaths were linked to aged care, where 1,008 cases are currently active. They take the national death toll to 201, including 116 in Victoria.
Andrews said he was looking at whether there needed to be changes in fines for people who have tested positive but were not at home when military personnel and public health officials came knocking.
China reported a more than 50 percent drop in new COVID-19 cases in a possible sign that its latest major outbreak in the northwestern region of Xinjiang might be waning.
The 45 new cases over the past 24 hours, 31 of them in Xinjiang, where the outbreak has been focused on the regional capital Urumqi, is down from 127 cases nationally on Friday, including 112 in Xinjiang.
Vietnam reported a third death from COVID-19 complications, a day after its first-ever COVID-19 fatality as it struggles with a renewed outbreak after 99 days with no local cases.
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