The government’s plan to test all of about 200,000 members of Shincheonji Church, the epicenter of the fast spread of the new coronavirus, raised concerns that the nation might not be capable of mass testing.
However, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the mass testing is manageable.
On Monday, the KCDC and the government were able to persuade Shincheonji Church to cooperate. The church agreed to provide the whole list of its members across the nation, actively cooperate with the health authorities’ testing, and encourage members at church training to get tested for the coronavirus.
At a briefing on Tuesday afternoon, KCDC Director Jeong Eun-kyeoung said the health officials tested 13,000 people for COVID-19 on Monday alone, and a majority of the sample collections were from Daegu. “We’re testing 9,300 members of the Shincheonji Church in Daegu. The tests have also been affected by the enhanced screening for patients with fever and respiratory symptoms,” she said.
As for the upcoming tests that are expected to spike, medical institutions will be able to manage the maximum capacity by increasing the PCR (polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests from three times per day to four times, Jeong explained. A PCR test takes about two to three hours.
Despite the plan to utilize the full testing capacity, the authorities will test those with meaningful symptoms first, among Shincheonji members, because mass testing at one time was impossible. “We will expand the tests gradually,” she added.
The first tests will be on those with symptoms, Shincheonji members related to the Daegu region, and people who contacted Shicheonji members in Daegu, Jeong noted.
The government said it could persuade Shincheonji members to cooperate actively, after emphasizing that it had no choice but to take legal actions if they did not do so, because the government meeting led by President Moon Jae-in raised the threat alert level to the highest on Sunday due to the rapid increase of new COVID-19 cases.
The Shincheonji Church demanded the government prepare for measures to prevent a leak of personal information of church members.
The church decided to provide the list of members living in other regions who have visited the Daegu branch in January and February and members of the Daegu branch who visited other areas during the two months. Also, the church said it would give the government the full list of all members as soon as possible.
The KCDC said as soon as it obtains the full list, it would distribute it to public health centers and local governments across the country. Then, each public health center and local government will conduct COVID-19 tests on the members whose addresses are in their jurisdiction.
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