Coronavirus: South Korea sect members donate blood for COVID-19 research

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Nearly 200 coronavirus survivors from a secretive South Korean sect blamed for the country’s early outbreak donated blood plasma Friday 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 Centers 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 are donating plasma.

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

Lee Man-hee, leader of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, speaks during a press conference at a facility of the church in Gapyeong on March 2, 2020. (AFP)
Lee Man-hee, leader of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, speaks during a press conference at a facility of the church in Gapyeong on March 2, 2020. (AFP)

Shincheonji had apologized “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.”

The South reported 371 new cases on Friday, the 15th consecutive day of triple-digit increases, driven by several clusters, many of them 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,” Kim Young-eun, the sect’s spokeswoman, 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 judgement. It is known to have some 200,000 followers.

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