How South Korea’s coronavirus outbreak got so quickly out of control

In the aftermath of the outbreak, Shincheonji came under intense scrutiny, as a woman that South Korean media are now calling a “super spreader” reportedly refused to be tested for COVID-19, despite having shown symptoms. The church has been a subject of lurid fascination in South Korea since at least 2007, when a major broadcaster ran a documentary on the group and its practices, including claims by Shincheonji’s leader, Lee Man-hee, to be immortal.

The combination of the group’s opacity and custom of gathering for crowded, enthusiastic worship services, could make containing the virus more difficult, experts have said.

“Shincheonji members hide who they are so that their friends and even their family members do not know they belong to the church. Now the government is unable to contact hundreds of Shincheonji members who attended the Daegu church,” said Ji-il Tark, a professor of theology at Busan Presbyterian University.