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Shincheonji director denies responsibility for South Korea coronavirus infections

The head of the religious group at the heart of South Korea’s new coronavirus epidemic denied responsibility for the recent surge in infections, saying the authorities were trying to “exaggerate” the accusations of their involvement in the transfer.

Jin Xinchang, head of the international delegation of Shincheonji religious groups, told CNN on Sunday that members have been fully transparent and cooperating with authorities in trying to contain the outbreak.

The coronavirus, officially known as Covid-19, has infected 3,526 people and killed 17 in South Korea. Health authorities said more than half of the cases were related to the Christian branch “Shinchon-ji Temple” and a specific branch of the southern city of Daegu.
South Korea’s Ministry of Justice said last week that 42 xinchuan members have traveled to South Korea from Wuhan, China’s city of coronavirus origin, since July.
Many cases in other countries come from people who have been to Wuhan or had contact with it, meaning that 42 members could bring the virus back if they travel during the height of the epidemic.
Kim told CNN that 357 Shincheonji members were stationed in Wuhan. He said that while the organization had no official travel records of all its members, any entry into South Korea from Wuhan since November was”not recorded”.

He said the outbreak began in December — so there was no need to check members’ travel history from July.
“It makes me wonder if they are trying to exaggerate the link or possibly move the responsibility to Shincheonji,” he said. “I would like to ask the Ministry of Justice why they did not check all Chinese and Korean citizens (traveling) from Wuhan since July, and why they only released the number of 42 (Shincheonji) members.”
The Ministry of Justice said it had pulled the immigration records from July on request of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC). CNN has reached out to KCDC for comment.
After the discovery and announcement of the Shincheonji link on February 18, South Korean authorities scrambled to contain the spread of the virus, tracking thousands of participants to track their contacts and symptoms. It took a week for the team to provide the authorities with a list of its members.
Some 600 Daegu police officers were sent to knock on the door, track the phone, scour the surveillance tapes to find them, because they usually do not answer calls from non-members.
The Daegu City Mayor, Kwon Young-jin, said on Friday that the group had also omitted some members from the list of participants presented to the municipal government, and that he would report to the police the group’s”measures obstructing the city to contain the virus.”
Kim apologized for “causing concern for us to the Korean people”-but insists Shincheonji has been completely transparent.
“We closed all the offices to prevent further spread, and our administrative process was delayed because all the members were working at home so that they could isolate themselves to the greatest extent possible,” he said.”
“I believe there are places where we can do better, but we do want to emphasize that we do best in this situation.”
Kim also admitted that members were encouraged to deny being part of the group-not to hide any important information or hinder coronavirus investigations, but because ” Shincheonji is seen as a cult and as a result many members are discriminated against.”
He also dismissed other charges, such as the illness of former member Duhyen Kim, who was never accepted as a valid reason to miss service.
In February, Duhyen Kim described to CNN how, when he was a member, followers would”squeeze together like sardines sitting on the floor in hours-long service.He and several other former members described that participants were not allowed to wear masks during prayer because it was considered ” disrespectful to God.”
Such claims were outdated and inaccurate, said Kim Shin Chang, adding that since January, members with symptoms had been told not to come in, or to wear masks during service.
“So there is no evidence that our service method is the reason we are seeing such an outbreak in our group,” he said.

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