South Korea closes churches as coronavirus tally passes 3,700

Monday, 2 March 2020 00:48 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Employees from a disinfection service company sanitise a subway station in Seoul, South Korea - Reuters


SEOUL (Reuters): Churches were closed in South Korea on Sunday, with many holding online services instead, as authorities fought to rein in public gatherings as 586 new coronavirus infections took the tally to 3,736 cases. 

That came a day after the biggest daily jump of 813 cases in South Korea’s battle with the largest virus outbreak outside China, the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said. The death toll rose to 20, up from 17 the day before. 

In Seoul, the capital, about a dozen worshippers were turned away from the Yoido Full Gospel Church, which put a sermon for its 560,000 followers on YouTube, filmed with a small choir instead of all 200 members and 60-strong orchestra. 

Authorities have warned of a “critical moment” in the battle against the virus, urging people to refrain from attending religious services and political events and stay home this weekend. 

For the first time in its 236-year history, South Korea’s Catholic church decided to halt masses at more than 1,700 locations nationwide. Buddhist temples also called off events, while major Christian churches held online services. 

Of the new cases, 333 were from the south-eastern city of Daegu, the location of a church at the centre of the outbreak, and 26 from the nearby province of North Gyeongsang, KCDC said.

The agency said some church members in January visited the central Chinese city of Wuhan, where the disease emerged late last year, adding it was investigating to determine if the trip played a role in the outbreak.

The numbers of cases was likely to continue growing in early March, he added, pledging greater efforts to rein in key infection sources.

The church’s Founder and Chairman, and self-proclaimed messiah Lee Man-hee was tested for the virus on Saturday and is awaiting results, the Yonhap news agency reported on Sunday, citing a church official.

President Moon Jae-in, in a speech, called for unity and vowed greater efforts, including an extra budget, to fight the outbreak.

“The outbreak can threaten our lives temporarily, but it cannot break our unity and hope,” he said.

Moon proposed joint efforts with North Korea to prevent an outbreak in the neighbour and improve healthcare.

North Korea has not confirmed cases, but has ordered a month in quarantine for those with symptoms, while state media said leader Kim Jong Un held a meeting on tougher measures.


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