All Small Religious Gatherings to Be Banned

  • By Kim Han-soo, Heo Sang-woo

    July 09, 2020 13:29

    All small religious gatherings like retreats, prayer meetings, Bible studies and choir practice will be banned from Friday, health authorities said Wednesday. Even during larger services, congregants including the choir must wear masks.

    The move was prompted by a spate of new coronavirus infections centered on small religious gatherings. Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said on Wednesday, "All small gatherings and supply of meals at churches will be banned and churches must keep an entry log."

    Church leaders can be fined up to W3 million and church operations could be suspended temporarily if they violate the ban, he warned (US$1=W1,196).

    Catholic churches and Buddhist temples are exempt from the measures because the recent clusters of infections were mostly in born-again churches, where worship tends to be a more demonstrative affair.

    Evangelical churches protested. In a statement, the United Christian Churches of Korea said, "It is highly regrettable that the government issued such an extremely bureaucratic and face-saving ban at a time when we've already strongly urged our members to refrain from having small gatherings and summer events."

    But Chung said analysis of recent infections "shows that about a half of them occurred among small church gatherings and events. It's an inevitable decision to keep people safe from COVID-19."

    Group infections, however, also occurred recently at a Buddhist temple in Gwangju and a Catholic church in Goyang, Gyeonggi Province. Since the secretive Shincheonji sect emerged as a hotbed of infections in Daegu in February, group infections have also been traced to religious gatherings in the Seoul metropolitan area and other parts of the country.

    As of Thursday morning, the number of confirmed coronavirus cases stood at 13.293, up 50 from the previous day. The continuous surge is partly attributed to increasing arrivals from abroad as travel bans are eased.

    Meanwhile, health authorities said they have asked U.S. biopharmaceutical firm Gilead Sciences for 5,360 doses of Remdesivir to treat severe coronavirus infections. A spokesman for the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, "We've roughly estimated the demand for the drug by taking into account the number of infections and the rate of patients with severe cases."

    Remdesivir, an Ebola drug, has been shown to shorten the duration of infections in a significant number of cases.

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