World

S. Korea accuses pastor of breaking rules as Covid-19 cases surge

SEOUL: South Korea accused a conservative pastor yesterday of violating self-isolation rules and obstructing contact tracing at a church where 240 infections have fuelled the country's worst outbreak in over five months.

The focus on the Sarang Jeil Church, led by Reverend Jun Kwang-hoon, revived bad memories of the country's biggest outbreak, among followers of a secretive Christian sect back in February.

South Korea yesterday reported 279 new cases, more than double the 103 reported on Friday, with most of the new infections found in and around Seoul.

Aside from the infections linked to the church, there were also smaller clusters, including some 30 cases linked to a Starbucks outlet in the city of Paju, north of Seoul.

The surge in Covid-19 cases prompted the authorities yesterday to reimpose tighter social distancing curbs in the Seoul metropolitan area.

The health ministry said it had filed a complaint against Rev Jun, an outspoken government critic, for violating self-isolation rules by participating in a rally on Saturday, and for "obstructing" a medical investigation into the outbreak by failing to provide a full list of church members for testing and tracing.

The Sarang Jeil Church did not respond to telephone calls from Reuters seeking comment.

On Saturday, a National Liberation Day holiday in both Koreas, thousands of demonstrators participated in street protests against President Moon Jae-in's policies, defying a ban on rallies in the capital.

President Moon said the latest outbreak posed the biggest challenge to efforts to combat Covid-19 since the large cluster of infections traced to the church six months ago.

Meanwhile, China's new locally transmitted cases of the coronavirus fell to a one-month low as a cluster in the western region of Xinjiang receded, data released by the country's health authority yesterday showed.

The number of locally transmitted cases in China dropped to four on Saturday, all of which were in Xinjiang, the National Health Commission said in a statement.

That compares with eight cases nationwide a day earlier, and is the lowest since July 16. - REUTERS

WORLD