South Korea is testing 200,000 members of a doomsday church that is the source of more than 60% of its coronavirus cases

South Korea is testing 200,000 members of a doomsday church that is the source of more than 60% of its coronavirus cases
Daegu South Korea quarantine coronavirus church
  • South Korea is testing all 200,000 members of a doomsday cult which has been badly hit by the coronavirus outbreak.
  • 60% of the country's 977 infections are members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, based in Daegu, officials said.
  • South Korea is the worst affected country outside of China, and 10 people have died there so far.
  • Church founder and self-professed messiah, Lee Man-hee, said he would give health authorities a list of members if they agree to protect their identities.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

South Korea will test 200,000 members of a secretive church for the coronavirus, after its leader agreed to hand a list of members to health authorities.


As of Tuesday, 10 people have died and at least 977 have been infected in South Korea, making it the worst-hit nation other than China.

Around 60% of those infected are members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, based in Daegu, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP) and the Guardian.

The church was set up in 1984 by Lee Man-hee and now has nearly 250,000 members, mostly in South Korea. Its teachings explicitly predict the end of the world, in which only a few will be saved.

Lee says he is the second coming of Jesus Christ, and that he can take 144,000 people to heaven with him on Judgment Day.


Employees from a disinfection service company sanitize outside the National Assembly in Seoul, South Korea, February 24, 2020. Yonhap via REUTERS

The church said it would cooperate with officials so long as the identities of its members are kept secret.

"We have been actively cooperating with the government to prevent the spread of the virus and overcome the outbreak," Lee said, according to a separate AFP report.

"All of these will be implemented on the premise that the government takes steps to protect their personal information."

The top health official in charge of fighting the outbreak in Daegu admitted on Monday that he is a member of the church.

A statement from the South Korean prime minister's office said that it is "essential to test all of the church members in order to contain the spread of the virus and relieve public anxiety," according to the Guardian.


A former member of the cult who acted as Lee's chief interpreter, identified by CNN by the name Kim, told the network that it is no wonder the virus spread within the church.

FILE - In this Feb. 24, 2020 file photo, People line up to buy face masks at a store in Daegu, South Korea. As fears of a soaring viral outbreak grip the southeastern South Korean city of Daegu and nearby areas, many residents are struggling as they try to avoid the new virus. (Lee Moo-ryul/Newsis via AP, File)

"They are packed together like sardines in one area. They are forced to sit line in line, and your knees will literally be touching the other person's knee," he said, describing group worship.

He added that members are banned from wearing face masks on the grounds that it is disrespectful to God. He said members cannot miss church for medical appointments or illness.

As Business Insider's Rhea Mahbubani reported on Monday, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a 61-year-old woman was a "super-spreader" in the church.

On Friday, South Korean prime minister Chung Sye-kyun said South Korea had failed to stop the virus spreading across the country, and officials are now focusing on containment.


Daegu's 2.5 million residents have been asked to stay at home, as Business Insider's Sinéad Baker previously reported. Preschools have been closed, and the military has stopped drafting people from the city.

"In Daegu, the number of new cases that are being confirmed by tests is quite large, and if we fail to effectively stem community transmissions in this area, there would be a large possibility (that the illness) spreads nationwide," South Korean Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said Monday.

Worldwide, the coronavirus is approaching the definition of "pandemic," according to the World Heath Organization.

The coronavirus has pandemic 'potential' as it spreads in South Korea, Italy, and Iran, according to WHO

One key indicator will tell us when the coronavirus outbreak is winding down - but we're not seeing it yet


A day-by-day breakdown of coronavirus symptoms shows how the disease, COVID-19, goes from bad to worse