Asia Today: 623 virus cases linked to South Korea church

A social distancing sign is seen at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. South Korea will ban large public gatherings and shut down churches and nightspots in the greater capital area following an alarming surge in coronavirus cases. The signs read "Social distance and keep 2 meter away." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
A social distancing sign is seen at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020. South Korea will ban large public gatherings and shut down churches and nightspots in the greater capital area following an alarming surge in coronavirus cases. The signs read "Social distance and keep 2 meter away." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

SEOUL – SEOUL, South Korea — South Korean health workers have found more than 600 coronavirus infections linked to a Seoul church led by a vocal opponent of the country’s president as officials began restricting gatherings in the greater capital area amid fears that transmissions are getting out of control.

Vice Health Minister Kim Gang-lip said Wednesday that health authorities are also seeking location data provided by cellphone carriers while trying to track thousands who participated in an anti-government protest on Saturday, which worsened the virus’s spread. The march was attended by members of the Sarang Jeil Church and its ultra-right pastor, Jun Kwang-hun, who has been hospitalized since Monday after testing positive.

Kwon Jun-wook, director of South Korea’s National Health Institute, said 623 cases have been linked to church members after the completion of some 3,000 tests. Police are pursuing around 600 church members who remain out of contact.

Transmissions from the church have already spread through various places through the activities of members, including call centers, nursery homes and other churches.

The country on Wednesday reported 297 new cases of the virus, its biggest daily rise since March 8.

It was the sixth straight day the country reported daily increases in triple digits, with most of the cases coming from the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area.

The main building of Seoul City Hall was shut down for disinfection Wednesday afternoon after an employee tested positive.

Officials have enforced stronger social distancing restrictions for Seoul and nearby Gyeonggi province and the city of Incheon, prohibiting gatherings of more than 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors.