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Nation on alert as coronavirus cases linked to unauthorized school reported in other regions

Students at the IEM School in Daejeon, 164 kilometers south of Seoul, who contracted COVID-19 board a bus to be transported to a treatment facility in a nearby city on Monday. (Yonhap)
Students at the IEM School in Daejeon, 164 kilometers south of Seoul, who contracted COVID-19 board a bus to be transported to a treatment facility in a nearby city on Monday. (Yonhap)
State and local health authorities on Tuesday were cautiously tracing and monitoring the development of a mass coronavirus outbreak at an unauthorized missionary training school in Daejeon, as cases linked to the school and its operator were being reported in other regions.

The IEM School in the central city, located 164 kilometers south of Seoul, experienced a cluster outbreak over the weekend, with the number of infected students and faculty members from the facility reaching 133 as of Tuesday.

The school has an infection rate of 93.3 percent so far among its 158 students and faculty members.

The school is run by a missionary society called IM, which owns a sprawling network of over 20 other similar education facilities throughout the country.

Authorities are especially concerned as students enrolled at the IEM School are not only based in Daejeon but come from all regions, with many of them traveling to their homes over the weekend after spending weekdays at the school's crammed dormitory.

The concerns are becoming a reality, as 40 additional people from the IEM School tested positive while visiting Hongcheon, a city in the nearby Gangwon Province, during a trip to a religious facility there.

The group has stayed in Hongcheon since Jan. 16 and was found to have visited around 30 local stores, stoking concerns of potential additional community transmissions.

The two adult supervisors of the group reportedly failed to take proper measures when two students initially showed symptoms, merely offering them fever reducing medicine and continuing with the trip.

TCS Ace International School, a separate missionary training school also owned by IM, located in Gwangju, 329 kilometers southwest of Seoul, has also seen an outbreak, with the number of linked cases reaching 31.

Another TSC branch school in Anseong, south of Seoul, also reported two confirmed patients, while a TCS facility in the nearby city of Yongin has also reported 12 cases.

Authorities are especially concerned that the outbreak could explode in a way similar to earlier high profile ones centered on other religious institutions -- the Shincheonji Church of Jesus and the BTJ Center for All Nations.

According to Daejeon city officials, graduates of the IEM School are regularly sent to other affiliated education centers in other regions to teach students hoping to become missionaries.

IM recently has held admission orientation events at its facilities throughout the nation, with its employees believed to have had contact with students and parents in various regions.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said the government will mobilize its full administrative capacity to cut off additional transmissions as quickly as possible.

"Having learned lessons from the Shincheonji and BTJ crises, this time we will prevail in terms of the speed of (dealing with the outbreaks)," Chung said during an interagency meeting on the COVID-19 response held at the government complex in Sejong, 120 kilometers south of Seoul.

Sohn Young-rae, a senior state health official, said that authorities were carrying out preemptive tests at IM-related facilities and were also consulting with the education and culture ministries on ways to effectively handle and supervise unregistered education institutions. (Yonhap)
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