South Korean capital seeks $4 million in damages from church for causing new Covid-19 outbreak

Seoul city will seek $4 million in damages against the Sarang Jeil Church, after accusing it of disrupting the country’s tracing and testing efforts.

The church’s members attended a large protest in downtown Seoul in mid-August. Authorities say that a fresh wave of infections erupted after the event, becoming the country’s largest cluster in the greater capital area.

The outbreak has driven triple-digit increases in daily Covid-19 cases for more than a month, and the metropolitan government said on Friday it would seek 4.6 billion won ($4 million) in damages against the church for causing the spread of the coronavirus cases.

The Seoul city government will file a lawsuit against both the Sarang Jeil Church and its leader, Rev. Jun Kwang-hoon, accusing them of disrupting coronavirus tests. The church had also provided inaccurate lists of its members, officials said, claiming it aggravated the latest wave of the epidemic. The city is seeking “to hold the church and the pastor responsible for contributing to the nationwide re-spread of Covid-19 by refusing and hindering epidemiological surveys… as well as submitting false materials.”

Also on South Korean conservative churches slammed for ignoring government’s Covid-19 orders

Jun, a critic of the government, participated in an unauthorized political protest ahead of the parliamentary election in April and was indicted on charges of breaking election laws. Earlier this month, the pastor was reimprisoned for attending the August 15 rally in violation of his bail.

The city government claims the cluster has inflicted losses totaling at least 13.1 billion won ($11.3 million), including 4.6 billion won on Seoul. The National Health Insurance Service will also sue the church for indemnity worth 5.5 billion won ($4.7 million).The country’s Disease Control and Prevention Agency reported 126 new cases as of midnight Thursday. This brought the total infections to 22,783, with 377 deaths. Stricter social distancing curbs were imposed by the government late last month, and the numbers, which peaked at 441, have steadily fallen to the low hundreds.

Ahead of a major traditional holiday next week, authorities urged Koreans to restrain trips and gatherings. The holiday period, when usually tens of millions of people travel across the country, will be a pivotal moment in the anti-virus campaign, according to Yoon Tae-ho, director-general for public health policy at the health ministry.

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