South Korea has recorded the highest number of corona virus infections outside of China: within a week, the country has seen the number of confirmed viral infections jumped from a few dozen to more than 900.
The country seems to be well-prepared, so the skyrocketing numbers make people wonder how this happened and whether a similar sudden outbreak could occur elsewhere.
In South Korea, more than half of Covid-19 infections were related to a cult and many thought the group’s secret nature kept the virus from being detected.
The events are crowded and close together
Authorities have identified the Shincheonji sect – a branch of Christianity but viewed by many as a heresy – at the center of this outbreak.
At their ceremonies in the southeastern city of Daegu, the members may have infected each other and then spread the virus across the country, all seemingly undetected.
South Korean health officials believe a 61-year-old member of the sect last week tested positive for the virus as one of the first to become infected.
The female patient initially refused to go to the hospital for testing and attended some church meetings before being tested positive.
Any large gathering in the confined space she attended – like a church ceremony – could lead to widespread infections.
Director of the Korean Center for Disease Control Jung Eun Kyeong said that “it is likely that many people sit close to each other in a very small space and perform for more than an hour” will lead to “some people being exposed to other infected people “.
“Viruses take advantage of our social habits and interactions,” infectious disease expert, Dr Leong Hoe Nam told the BBC.
“Activities (common) in a church – like crying or singing songs – will encourage the spread of translation.”
Another cluster of sectarian-related infections is at a hospital in Cheongdo, where a large number of devotees attended the Founder’s brothers’ funeral for three days in late January.
Church communities in other countries have also become viral clusters, albeit in smaller numbers than in South Korea. All suspended rituals and community gatherings to limit the spread.
Since the epidemic started in China in December 2019, one of the key questions is how quickly the virus can be detected and whether it can be spread by people who do not yet have any symptoms. any or not. This makes restraint very difficult.
Not detected early
While Chinese health authorities have long warned the virus could be transmitted before patients have any symptoms, the World Health Organization has not yet confirmed this.
“It’s a controversial question,” Dale Fisher, chairman of the Global Outbreak Response and Warning Network at WHO, told the BBC.
“What we can say is that it spreads early – while Sars (severe acute respiratory syndrome), for example, spreads late in the course of disease.”
He explained that any infected person will have the virus on his or her throat before they have any symptoms. However, if there are no symptoms, or no cough, then they are also less likely to spread the virus.
Simply put, to spread the virus widely, an infected person will need to cough, that is, cough into their hands, on certain surfaces or on others.
“Worse, the likelihood of infection in asymptomatic infected people is much lower,” Fisher explained. “And to be clear – asymptomatic people are not widespread. Only when you have symptoms do you spread it easily.”
Denomination is blamed, but also victims
Officially known as the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, the Presbyterian Temples Temple (or New Heavenly Yard), this sect was founded in the 1980s and claimed to have about 250,000 followers.
During the ceremonies, the members were asked to sit and kneel very close to each other and continue to gather after the end of the ceremony.
Tan Thien Dia is accused by some people of being evil. Many people disguise joining this sect as it is not common in Korea.
They also consider illness as a weakness. That makes it difficult to track infected people.
Many people are angry and blame the cult. Hundreds of thousands of people have called for the dissolution of the New Heavenly Church. However, some experts believe that this can happen anywhere in the world.
Many Koreans believe that the country is well prepared for this outbreak.
Pharmacies and hospitals have been around for weeks. There are short meetings from the Centers for Disease Control twice a day, where experts map the source of all infections.
There is also a text message warning residents about confirmed cases in their area telling them where and when they were.
Unlike Hong Kong or Singapore, there was very little panic buying in Korea until the beginning of the week. However, when the shops in Daegu announced they had a new store of masks, thousands of people lined up for hours hoping to get one.