The French prayer meeting that set a virus time bomb

Hundreds gathered at the Christian Open Door church in Mulhouse, close to France’s border with Germany and Switzerland.

The date was February 18, 2020.

As usual, some had traveled thousands of miles to attend the highpoint of the church’s year.

But this time, in the tightly-packed congregation, someone was carrying the coronavirus.

Their presence triggered what became France’s biggest COVID-19 cluster.

The French authorities have linked around 2,500 confirmed cases to this one prayer meeting.

Church leaders say 17 people who caught coronavirus at the gathering have since died.

Michel Vernay, an epidemiologist with the national public health agency, later described it as a “time bomb.”

But back when the gathering ended, no one was reporting any flu-like symptoms, according to a church spokeswoman.

France’s tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases at that time was stable at just 12.

There was little public alarm about the disease.

Then cases of the virus began to appear among the congregation.

Eventually, around a dozen of the church founder’s own family fell ill.

His grandson Jonathan Peterschmitt told Reuters that COVID19 had eemed far off at the time of the gathering.

Worshipers also unwittingly carried the disease far and wide; to Burkina Faso, French Guyana, Corsica and Switzerland.

One of them was the meeting’s star preacher: Pastor Mamadou Karambiri.

Back in Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, he and his wife fell ill on March 1 and tested positive.

At the end of their self-imposed quarantine, Karambiri told his followers…

That the coronavirus is a “satanic plan” to destroy the world.

But that, “God is watching over us and he will lead the people out.”

Video Transcript

- [SPEAKING FRENCH]

- Hundreds gathered at the Christian Open Door Church in Mulhouse, close to France's border with Germany and Switzerland. The date was February the 18th, 2020. As usual, some had traveled thousands of miles to attend the high point of the church's year. But this time in the tightly packed congregation, someone was carrying the coronavirus. Their presence triggered what became France's biggest COVID-19 cluster.

The French authorities have linked around 2 and 1/2 thousand confirmed cases to this one prayer meeting. Church leaders say 17 people who caught the coronavirus at the gathering have since died.

Michel Vernay, an epidemiologist with the national public health agency, later described it as a time bomb. But back when the gathering ended, no one was reporting any flu-like symptoms, according to a church spokeswoman.

France's tally of confirmed COVID-19 cases at that time was stable at just 12, and there was little public alarm about the disease. Then cases of the virus began to appear among the congregation. Eventually around a dozen of the church founder's own family fell ill. His grandson, Jonathan Peterschmitt, told Reuters that COVID-19 had seemed far off at the time of the gathering.

Worshippers also unwittingly carried the disease far and wide-- to Burkina Faso, French Guyana, Corsica, and Switzerland.

MAMADOU KAMAMBIRI: [SPEAKING FRENCH]

- One of them was the meeting's star preacher, Pastor Mamadou Kamambiri. Back in Ouagadougou in Burkina Faso, he and his wife fell ill on March the 1st and tested positive.

MAMADOU KAMAMBIRI: [SPEAKING FRENCH]

- At the end of their self-imposed quarantine, Kamambiri told his followers that the coronavirus is a satanic plan to destroy the world but that God is watching over us and he will lead the people out.