Obscure cult harbors S. Korea's latest outbreak

A little-known sect, led by a pastor who pokes eyes to heal, is at the center of a COVID-19 outbreak in South Korea.

In the tiny church, in a town of 427 residents in Cheonan city, south of Seoul, at least 241 people linked to the religious community have tested positive for the virus, according to a city official.

About 90% of the community is unvaccinated and the majority were in close contact through communal living.

Just 17 of the positive cases were fully vaccinated, compared to 79% of the wider population.

Founded in 1990, the religion is not officially registered as a sect despite the eye-poking ritual believed to cleanse people of worldly desire.

Officials, who have put the town under lockdown, have stated the group’s anti-government beliefs may have encouraged vaccine hesitancy among the elderly congregation.

Although the outbreak is a small portion of the national total, the concentrated cluster comes as South Korea reports a new daily-case record of just over 4,100 and hospitals are under increased strain.

The rise in cases has been linked to a change in South Korea’s COVID strategy.

This month, the country switched to a "living with COVID-19" plan aimed at lifting rigid distancing rules after reaching vaccination goals last month.

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