Asia

South Korea sect members donate blood for coronavirus research

DAEGU (AFP) – Nearly 200 coronavirus survivors from a secretive South Korean sect blamed for the country’s early outbreak donated blood plasma on Friday (Aug 28) to help treatment research, as the group seeks to redeem itself.

Scientists have pointed to the potential for treatment using blood plasma containing antibodies to the virus from individuals who have recovered from Covid-19.

By far the South’s largest contingent of coronavirus survivors is from the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, which is often condemned as a cult.

It was at the heart of the country’s early outbreak and according to the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) is linked to more than 5,000 virus cases in the country.

Its elderly leader, Lee Man-hee, was arrested earlier this month for allegedly hindering the government’s efforts to contain the epidemic.

Over the course of a week, more than 1,000 Shincheonji members had been donating plasma.

On Friday, around 160 of them donated to the Korean Red Cross in Daegu, the centre of the Shincheonji outbreak.

Shincheonji had apologised “for causing much concern and worry to the people of Korea”, the sect said in a statement, adding its leader Lee had encouraged its members, “who have been atoned for their sins by the blood of Jesus”, to donate.

Donor Park Mi-kyung, 56, who was released from hospital in March, told AFP: “Now the virus is spreading again, I hope a cure can be developed quickly.”

South Korea reported 323 new virus cases on Saturday, the fourth consecutive day that it has seen cases above 300. The latest cases put the total caseload at 19,400, according to the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

Driven by several clusters, many of the latest cases are linked to Protestant churches in the Seoul region.

Shincheonji was heavily vilified back in February, and more than 1.4 million people signed a petition on the South Korean presidential office website demanding its dissolution.

“Because we have been framed as a cult by the (Christian) religious circles, I think it’s possible that people felt more antagonistic towards an emerging sect,” sect spokesman Kim Young-eun told AFP.

“But since the number of the cases linked to our church was so high, we fully understand the fear that people must have felt at the time.”

The sect proclaims Lee has donned the mantle of Jesus Christ and will take 144,000 people with him to heaven on the day of judgment. It is known to have some 200,000 followers.

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