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Coronavirus: South Korean sect identified as hotbed

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A religious group in South Korea has been identified as a coronavirus hotbed, officials say, amid a sharp rise in confirmed cases in the country.

The infections among members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, the Temple of the Tabernacle of the Testimony (Shincheonji) are linked to one woman.

The sect in the city of Daegu accounts for 30 of 53 new cases, with officials warning of an unprecedented crisis.

South Korea also confirmed its first death from the virus, named Covid-19.

The coronavirus, which originated in China's Hubei province, causes pneumonia-like symptoms.

China has now seen 2,118 deaths and recorded nearly 75,000 infections.

On Thursday, Japan said two of its passengers who contracted the coronavirus on board quarantined cruise ship Diamond Princess had died. The man and the woman were in their 80s.

What about the outbreak among sect members?

South Korean health officials believe that the infections are linked to a 61-year-old woman who tested positive for the virus earlier this week.

The Korean Centre for Disease Control says the woman – who has not been identified – had contact with 166 people, who were asked to self-quarantine.

At least 30 of the new Covid-19 infections were on Thursday recorded among sect members in Daegu, a city of about 2.5 million people in the south-east.

The Shincheonji, which has been accused of being a cult, said it had now shut down its Daegu branch and that services in other regions would be held online or individually at home.

The mayor of the city has described the event as an "unprecedented crisis" and urged people in the city to stay indoors. Commanders on a nearby US military base also imposed access restrictions, news agency AFP reported.

What is the Shincheonji?

  • Religious organisation founded in 1984 by South Korean national Lee Man-hee
  • Lee, now in his 80s, describes himself as "the promised pastor" mentioned in the Bible
  • Followers are taught to believe that Lee is the second coming of Jesus Christ
  • Shincheonji is the abbreviation from Korean of "New Heaven and New Earth"
  • Reportedly has more than 120,000 members around the world
  • Accused of being a cult, and has been involved in controversies in several countries

What's the overall picture in South Korea?

The number of confirmed cases now stands at 104.

New cases were also reported in the capital Seoul and the nearby North Gyeongsang province.

Meanwhile, the authorities revealed that a man died on Wednesday from pneumonia believed to have been caused by the coronavirus.

The 63-year-old man – who has not been publicly named – died in hospital in the south-eastern city of Cheongdo.

He was among 15 people at the hospital who had earlier tested positive for the virus.

The victim had been bedridden for more than 20 years at the hospital, Yonhap news agency reports.

What's the latest from the Diamond Princess ship?

The ocean liner was carrying 3,700 people in total and passengers who tested negative for the virus began leaving the ship on Wednesday after a 14-day quarantine.

Hundreds have now disembarked from the cruise liner docked in Yokohama. Others are set to leave over the next two days.

More than 150 Australian passengers have already arrived in Darwin, where they will begin two weeks of quarantine.

The first batch of people from Hong Kong have also flown back to the city, where they will similarly be quarantined.

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