SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – South Korean prosecutors on Saturday arrested the elderly leader of a secret religious sect as part of an investigation into allegations the church hampered the government’s anti-virus response after thousands of worshipers were infected in February and March.
Suwaon central city prosecutors questioned Lee Man-hee, 88, president of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, on charges that the church hid some members and under-declared gatherings to avoid more quarantines wide.
Suwon District Court allowed prosecutors’ request to arrest Lee early on Saturday, fearing he could temper with evidence.
Lee and his church strongly denied the charges, saying they were cooperating with health authorities. Its spokesperson, Kim Young-eun, said the church would do its best to “have the truth clearly proven in court.”
More than 5,200 of South Korea’s 14,336 COVID-19 cases have been linked to the church so far. Its branch in the southern city of Daegu became the largest group after a rise in infections at the end of February.
Health officials have used an aggressive testing and quarantine program to contain the outbreak in Daegu and neighboring cities by April, but the country has seen a resurgence of the virus in the Seoul metropolitan area since late May.
South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 31 newly confirmed cases on Saturday. At least 23 of them were linked to international arrivals.
The country recently reported dozens of infections among South Korean builds airlifted out of virus-ravaged Iraq and crew members of Russian-flagged cargo ships docked in the ports of Busan and Incheon.
In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:
– India recorded the steepest spike of 57,118 new cases in the past 24 hours, bringing its number of coronavirus cases to nearly 1.7 million, with July alone accounting for nearly 1.1 million infections. The health ministry also reported an additional 764 deaths for a total of 36,511 on Saturday. India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation delayed the resumption of international flights for an additional month until August 31. But it will continue to allow several international carriers from the United States, Europe and the Middle East to operate special flights to evacuate stranded nationals. Health Minister Harsh Vardhan said on Friday that India had achieved more than a million recoveries with active cases only a third of the total. India currently performs more than 640,000 tests in 24 hours, bringing the cumulative testing across the country to nearly 1.9 million, he said.
– The Australian state of Victoria has recorded three more deaths from the coronavirus and 397 more cases, a significant drop from this week’s peak. Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said he understands the latest deaths were linked to care for the elderly, where 1,008 cases are currently active. They bring the national death toll to 201, including 116 in Victoria. Authorities have warned that many of those infected are not self-isolating at home. Andrews said he was investigating whether there was a need to change the fines for people who tested positive but were not at home when military personnel and public health officials came knocking on the door. “A much heavier fine” in court is being considered, he said.
– The Japanese capital recorded 472 new cases of coronavirus on Saturday, the third consecutive day of record numbers. Tokyo Governor Yuriko Koike issued a warning in an online video, urging people to wash their hands, wear masks, and visit businesses that display the city-backed special stickers with the image of ‘a rainbow, indicating good social distancing. Most of the people who fell ill were in their 20s and 30s, pointing out how they could let their guard down and go out to party, officials said. Nationwide, the daily count of coronavirus cases in Japan totaled a record 1,579 on Friday.
– China reported a drop of more than 50% in new COVID-19 cases on Saturday, a possible sign that its last major outbreak in the northwestern region of Xinjiang is on the decline. The 45 new cases in the past 24 hours, including 31 in Xinjiang, where the outbreak has focused on the regional capital Urumqi, are down from 127 nationwide cases on Friday, including 112 in Xinjiang. The National Health Commission also reported eight new cases on Saturday in northeastern Liaoning Province, where officials from the port city of Dalian collected nucleic acid tests from more than 4 million people. people. Six more cases were brought in by Chinese overseas travelers. In Hong Kong, infections continue to rise with more than 100 new cases reported every day, bringing its total to 2,273 on Saturday morning, with two new deaths for a total of 27. Hong Kong has reimposed social distancing and wearing requirements mask, and her leader Carrie Lam announced on Friday that the parliamentary elections scheduled for September would be delayed by a year. Critics called the move politically motivated.
– Vietnam has reported a third death from complications from coronavirus, a day after its very first death from COVID-19 as it grapples with a new outbreak after 99 days without a local case. All three died at a hospital in Da Nang, a hot spot with more than 100 cases last week, more than half of which were patients. The country’s first death was a 70-year-old man who was being treated for kidney disease. Da Nang is Vietnam’s most popular beach destination and thousands of visitors were in the city for summer vacation. Across the country, authorities are rushing to test people who have returned home from the coastal city. Fifteen other patients with COVID-19 are in critical condition, officials said. All of them have other underlying illnesses. On Saturday morning, the health ministry confirmed 12 more cases, all linked to the hospital.
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