DAEGU, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 25: In this handout
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, (R) talks with government employees during a special government meeting to discuss measures to prevent the further spread of COVID-19 at the Daegu City Hall on February 25, 2020 in Daegu, South Korea. Government has raised the coronavirus alert to the highest level as confirmed case numbers keep rising. Government reported 144 new cases of the coronavirus (COVID-19) bringing the total number of infections in the nation to 977, with the potentially fatal illness spreading fast across the country. (Photo by South Korean Presidential Blue House via Getty Images)
  • South Korea is testing all 200,000 members of a doomsday cult which has been badly hit by the coronavirus outbreak.
  • 60% of the country's 977 infections are members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, based in Daegu, officials said.
  • South Korea is the worst affected country outside of China, and 10 people have died there so far.
  • Church founder and self-professed messiah, Lee Man-hee, said he would give health authorities a list of members if they agree to protect their identities.
  • For more stories go to the Business Insider South Africa homepage.

South Korea will test 200,000 members of a secretive church for the coronavirus, after its leader agreed to hand a list of members to health authorities.

As of Tuesday, 10 people have died and at least 977 have been infected in South Korea, making it the worst-hit nation other than China.

Around 60% of those infected are members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, based in Daegu, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP) and the Guardian.

The church was set up in 1984 by Lee Man-hee and now has nearly 250,000 members, mostly in South Korea. Its teachings explicitly predict the end of the world, in which only a few will be saved.

Lee says he is the second coming of Jesus Christ, and that he can take 144,000 people to heaven with him on Judgment Day.

The church said it would cooperate with officials so long as the identities of its members are kept secret.

"We have been actively cooperating with the government to prevent the spread of the virus and overcome the outbreak," Lee said, according to a separate AFP report.

"All of these will be implemented on the premise that the government takes steps to protect their personal information."

The top health official in charge of fighting the outbreak in Daegu admitted on Monday that he is a member of the church.

A statement from the South Korean prime minister's office said that it is "essential to test all of the church members in order to contain the spread of the virus and relieve public anxiety," according to the Guardian.

A former member of the cult who acted as Lee's chief interpreter, identified by CNN by the name Kim, told the network that it is no wonder the virus spread within the church.

"They are packed together like sardines in one area. They are forced to sit line in line, and your knees will literally be touching the other person's knee," he said, describing group worship.

He added that members are banned from wearing face masks on the grounds that it is disrespectful to God. He said members cannot miss church for medical appointments or illness.

As Business Insider's Rhea Mahbubani reported on Monday, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a 61-year-old woman was a "super-spreader" in the church.

On Friday, South Korean prime minister Chung Sye-kyun said South Korea had failed to stop the virus spreading across the country, and officials are now focusing on containment.

Daegu's 2.5 million residents have been asked to stay at home, as Business Insider's Sinéad Baker previously reported. Preschools have been closed, and the military has stopped drafting people from the city.

"In Daegu, the number of new cases that are being confirmed by tests is quite large, and if we fail to effectively stem community transmissions in this area, there would be a large possibility (that the illness) spreads nationwide," South Korean Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said Monday.

Worldwide, the coronavirus is approaching the definition of "pandemic," according to the World Heath Organisation.

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