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(LEAD) State health insurer to seek indemnity from church over virus fiasco

Health 14:53 January 13, 2021

(ATTN: UPDATES with more info in paras 7-8)

SEOUL, Jan. 13 (Yonhap) -- South Korea' state health insurer said Wednesday that it plans to seek reimbursement from an evangelical church that has emerged as a new hotbed of coronavirus infections for allegedly hindering infection prevention efforts.

The National Health Insurance Service (NHIS) said it would seek reimbursement for treatment costs of COVID-19 patients linked to BTJ Center for All Nations in Sangju, 270 kilometers southeast of Seoul.

The government currently covers almost all medical expenses, including hospital stays, for COVID-19 treatment.

(LEAD) State health insurer to seek indemnity from church over virus fiasco - 1

The church allegedly caused mass infections by hindering health authorities' infection prevention efforts, the NHIS said. The church violated a related law that bans gatherings and refused to cooperate with an epidemiological investigation.

Health authorities said they have been struggling to track down the possible infection links among the visitors as most of them have been out of contact or refused to get tested for the novel coronavirus.

A total of 576 COVID-19 cases across the nation have been linked to BTJ Center for All Nations.

Health authorities said a total of 3,013 people are estimated to have been exposed to the church-traced potential infections, and nearly 70 percent of them have not been tested yet.

Out of 2,996 people who visited the center between Nov. 27 and Dec. 27, 17 people have been confirmed to be infected through the epidemiological investigation.

The NHIS said the average treatment cost of COVID-19 patients came to 5.35 million won (US$4,886) last year, with some 2.6 billion won estimated to be paid by the agency.

The number of new coronavirus cases remained in the 500 range for the second day in a row Wednesday, indicating that the third wave of the pandemic is possibly heading for a marked slowdown after a peak on the back of monthlong tougher virus curbs.


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