Authorities in South Korea believe a secret Christian sect, described as a “cult,” is behind the latest surge in the number of patients infected with the novel coronavirus. According to the Los Angeles Times, there were more than 100 newly confirmed infections among a group of people affiliated with a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the south-eastern city of Daegu. South Korea’s Center for Disease Control is now trying to track down 4,475 members of the church, of which 544 are reported to have symptoms. At least two of those infected with the flu-like virus have died.
Infections in at least four different South Korean provinces were linked to the church, South Korean authorities said. Lee Man-hee, who calls himself “the promised pastor,” reportedly told his followers in an internal message recently that the virus was the work of the devil “to stop the rapid growth of Shincheonji,” according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency. “Just like Job’s faith was tested, it is an attempt to destroy our progress,” the 88-year-old leader allegedly wrote. The LA Times reported that South Korean President Moon Jae-in has since directed his staff to investigate the attendees of the church service and Lee’s brother’s funeral—where members may have been infected.