South Korea’s national health insurance operator said Monday that it would force a Seoul church to cover the costs of treatment for an outbreak linked to it.

Yonhap News Agency reported that 1,056 cases of covid-19 have been traced to the Sarang Jeil Church. The state-run National Health Insurance Service (NHIS) estimated that the cost of treatment for the cluster was $5.48 million as of Sunday.

“If cases similar to the Sarang Jeil Church case occur — violating disease prevention guidelines and hampering anti-virus efforts — we will actively consider actions such as seeking indemnity,” an NHIS official said, according to Yonhap.

Sarang Jeil, which operates a huge church in northern Seoul, is led by the Rev. Jun Kwang-hoon, a charismatic but ultraconservative Presbyterian pastor.

Jun has been a bitter critic of South Korean President Moon Jae-in for years. He has criticized — and frequently flouted — pandemic policies installed by the government to stop the spread of the virus.

Jun tested positive for covid-19 in mid-August, just days after he participated in an anti-government protest in Seoul that drew a crowd of thousands. Moon called the participation in the rallies an “unpardonable act against the safety of our people.”

The Sarang Jeil cluster is the largest in the country since February and March, when an outbreak linked to the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the central city of Daegu was linked to at least 5,080 cases.

In late July, the leader of the Shincheonji church was arrested on charges of obstructing the government’s infection-control measures by withholding necessary information.



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