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[Report from Daegu] Apartment residents shocked by mass infection, hidden Shincheonji members
  • By Jeong Sae-im
  • Published 2020.03.08 18:54
  • Updated 2020.03.09 12:33
  • comments 0

DAEGU, South Korea – Neighbors of an apartment block in this city were shocked twice last Friday – first by the mass infections of new coronavirus there, and second, by the fact that a majority of the flat houses’ occupants were the members of the Shincheonji Church.

Their anxiety reached a peak as the news came only two days after the shutdown of a nearby hospital because of a group infection there.

On Saturday, the municipal government announced that it would place the entire apartment block under cohort quarantine because of COVID-19 infection among its residents. Local health authorities have confirmed 46 patients out of 142 residents had COVID-19, all of whom were the members of the new Christian sect, which has become the hotspot of new coronavirus infection.

The gate to the Hanmaum Apartment in Daegu, which was put under cohort quarantine for the first time in Korea, is closed.

The epidemiological investigators identified 94 Shincheonji members after checking the resident list, meaning they accounted for two-thirds of all residents.

The apartment entrance was tightly closed as it is under unprecedented cohort-quarantine. Residents were not seen, and only the investigators were moving around the apartment. The Hanmaeum Apartment is a rental apartment located within the Daegu General Welfare Center, which is also closed due to cohort quarantine. However, all cultural and educational programs planned by the welfare center had been canceled because of COVID-19.

The parcel service or delivery is also controlled at the entrance. A parcel truck to deliver the goods had to leave them in front of the entrance. The apartment guard carried the goods to the apartment in a handcart.

Hanmaum Apartment is an old apartment built in 1985, where unmarried women under 35 who work in Daegu can live at a moderate cost.

The apartment consists of two five-story buildings (100 households). One or two people make up each household, and the apartment's monthly rent is 54,000 won ($45) for a single-person household. For two-person households, the rent is 32,000 won for the large room and 22,000 won for the small one. The residents have to pay four months of rent as a deposit. The maximum rental period is four years.

It has the advantage of a low price but not very popular because it is old and difficult to move around after midnight. Most people do not even know about this apartment, and the residents moved into the apartment via acquaintances.

Nearby residents seemed to be very shocked as they heard the apartment was the residential quarters of the Shincheonji Church members.

"I was stunned by the news,” an anonymous resident said “I never imagined that a group of Shinchonji believers would live in the neighborhood. I often took a dance lesson here at the welfare center before the COVID-19 outbreak."

"It seems that the local administration was too indifferent to not know such a large number of Shincheonji members could live in a group," another neighbor said, also wanting not to be named.

Munseong Hospital, 200 meters away from the Hanmaum Apartment, has also been shut down.

Hanmaum Apartment was easy to move in because most people do not know about it. It seemed to be the best place for a group of Shincheonji Church members to live as the rent is inexpensive, and the outsiders cannot easily come and go.

An anonymous informant, whose daughter had lived in the apartment, explained that a single woman under 35 with a job in Daegu can apply and enter. However, the number of applicants has decreased.

The informant added that the entrance is closed at midnight, forcing some residents to climb the wall. The apartment has two small rooms, a kitchen and aisle. It has no air-conditioner is hot in summer. Young people would not find the apartment to be attractive.

Many residents expressed their anxiety by saying that they cannot go anywhere because of a series of infections in the neighborhood.

Munseong Hospital, which recently confirmed 10 patients of new coronavirus, is located 200 meters from the Hanmaum Apartment. The apartment and hospital are in the same residential block, although their administrative districts are different. A hospital staff lived in the apartment, but the person showed a negative response to the test.

Currently, 14 confirmed patients out of 46 from the apartment were transported to hospitals or healthcare centers, and 32 patients are waiting for hospitalization. Initially, the local administration planned to relocate 32 patients by Saturday, but additional transportation has not started as of 9 p.m. Saturday.

Hanmaum Apartment in Daegu stands dimly-lit and quiet on Saturday night.


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