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SEOUL, KOREA, August 28, 2020 /24-7PressRelease/ -- While some countries are still struggling to overcome the COVID-19 pandemic and lower the rate of the virus spread, others have been more successful in "flattening the curve" and quickly lowering the infection rate. One of these more successful countries is South Korea, who quickly lowered the transmission rate after the initial outbreak in February using the "trace, test and treat" approach. This gained global attention including that of US Billionaire and Microsoft Corporation co-founder Bill Gates. On July 26th, Gates stated that he was impressed by the measures taken by the Korean government to prevent the virus spread.
Gates went further by writing a letter to South Korean President Moon Jae-in about his working with South Korean pharmaceutical company SK Biosciences to create 200 million COVID-19 vaccine kits by next June. The Bill & Merlin Gates Foundation also reportedly donated $3.6 million in May to SK Biosciences to accelerate the vaccine development, seeing that it had an early lead in the global race to illness prevention. This rapid vaccine development has been made possible in South Korea because of a world record-breaking plasma donation by one of the country's minority religious groups, Shincheonji Church of Jesus.
In early July, Shincheonji Church of Jesus (SCJ) offered to give 4,000 donations of convalescent plasma from COVID-19-recovered church members at a valued total of $83 billion. Prior to this, the country had less than 200 plasma donations from recovered patients and so had little to work with for vaccine research. Over a period of four days in July, SCJ members donated 500 units of blood plasma.
South Korea has recently experienced another COVID-19 outbreak and is calling for the plasma of SCJ members again. On August 26th, the Korean Centers for Disease Control (KCDC) in an official letter expressed their gratitude to SCJ for their active participation in July and requested that members of Shincheonji Church who have recovered from COVID-19 participate in another blood plasma drive. The plasma drive, scheduled for August 26th - September 4th, has already received 1223 volunteers for donations. Of these volunteers, 1100 are from Shincheonji church.
While the KCDC is thanking the religious group and asking for their continued support in the fight against COVID-19, the Korean government and others have had a different opinion about the group. SCJ is a widely unpopular religious group in South Korea, and was attributed to being the center of the country's initial COVID-19 outbreak when asymptomatic "Patient 31" attended a worship service in compliance with Korean governmental guidelines and unknowingly spread the virus to other church-goers. About 5,000 SCJ members in the same church contracted the virus, which led to an investigation on the church by the South Korean government. Korean officials demanded lists of members and their contact information from church leaders and then claimed that the lists that were provided were falsified. This led to a raid of the SCJ headquarters that ultimately found the church was not lying. Despite this, on August 1st Korean officials arrested Man Hee Lee, Chairman of SCJ, for falsifying member lists and interfering with the investigation of the COVID-19 outbreak. The 89-year-old Chairman is awaiting trial in a Suwon Detention Center, even after publicly apologizing for the church outbreak months before and complying with the government. Many international religious and political leaders have spoken up about the treatment of SCJ and the Chairman by the Korean government. Additionally, a team of law and religion experts gathered to create a White Paper and discern the fact from fiction regarding SCJ's involvement in the Korean COVID-19 outbreak. You can find the White Paper here.
Despite the persecution against Shincheonji Church and the imprisonment of its Chairman, the church members have joined together to fight against the virus. Hopefully this large-scale donation will bring scientists one step closer to a COVID-19 vaccine.
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