New Covid-19 cases linked to a church in Seoul continued to surge on Monday, not only causing concerns over infected members but also public backlash against the church and its leader against their uncooperative response.

Cases traced to the Sarang Jeil Church in the northern ward of Seongbuk reached 319 as of Monday, up 70 cases from the previous day, Yonhap News Agency quoted the Central Disease Control Headquarters as saying in a report.

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With the latest figure, the church has emerged as the country's second-biggest virus cluster following 5,214 cases associated with Shincheonji, a fringe religious sect that was deemed accountable for mass cases in Daegu city earlier this year.

Going Against Instructions

Despite repeated warnings from the South Korean government, members of the church, led by conservative pastor Jun Kwang-hoon, attended a mass Liberation Day rally in Seoul on Saturday. Jun himself has tested positive, health authorities said, urging people who attended the rally to be placed under quarantine and tested.

Health authorities voiced concern that the number of virus cases tied to the church may further increase as thousands of elderly people took part in the rally. Meanwhile, public outrage over the church and its leader has also mounted, with more than 200,000 people signing an online petition asking the pastor to be detained, reports Yonhap News Agency.

"Harming Society's Safety Under The Mask Of Religion"

The online petition, first posted on August 15, demands that Jun, who was released on bail, be again detained for "harming society's safety under the mask of religion". In addition to church-linked cases, health authorities warned of chain transmissions spreading at other facilities outside of the greater Seoul area.

South Korea reported 197 new coronavirus cases on Monday, taking the country's total caseload to 15,515. The death toll stood at 315.