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Coronavirus Spikes in S. Korea, Hits Italy and Iran

More than half of S. Korea's 430 cases are tied to controversial Shincheonji Church of Jesus
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 22, 2020 7:45 AM CST

(Newser) – Almost 78,000 people around the globe have been hit with COVID-19, better known as the coronavirus, the AP reports, and South Korea is the latest nation to be slammed. Per CNN, more than 430 cases have been reported there as of Saturday, with two deaths so far; more than 220 cases were called in within just one 24-hour period. More than half of the infected patients there are tied to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, what the New York Times calls a "shadowy" group that's been called a cult by mainstream churches. More than 1,250 other Shincheonji church members are said to have coronavirus-like symptoms, and it's worrisome to health officials because the group reportedly forbids its members to wear face masks and expects them to come to church and evangelize even when they're sick. "We were taught not to be afraid of illness," a former member tells the Times.

An expert on religious cults backs up her account: "To them, getting sick is a sin because it prevents them from doing God’s work." The church has pushed back on criticism against it. In other parts of the world, a dozen towns in northern Italy are on lockdown after at least 20 people contracted the illness (one person has died), and Iran has reported its fifth death, with 28 cases reported overall, per the AP. The number of cases in the United States has jumped to 35. Meanwhile, administration officials tell the Washington Post that President Trump was angry to learn that 14 Americans who'd been on the Diamond Princess cruise ship docked in Japan and tested positive for coronavirus were brought back to the US in chartered planes with healthy citizens, even though Trump had been assured infected patients would stay in Japan. The AP is keeping tabs on cases around the globe. (Read more coronavirus stories.)

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