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(LEAD) Churches, temples emerge as new infection clusters

15:02 June 30, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with new cases in paras 2-4)

SEOUL, June 30 (Yonhap) -- As churches and Buddhist temples have emerged as new infection clusters in South Korea, the religious community is on alert over the possible further spread of the novel coronavirus.

As of noon on Tuesday, cases traced to a major church in Seoul's southwestern ward of Gwanak reached 31, while those tied to a church in Anyang, south of Seoul, rose to 23.

Eight people related to a church in Suwon, which has more than 9,000 congregants, tested positive for COVID-19.

Moreover, at least 14 cases linked to Gwangleug Temple in Gwangju were reported. They are the first coronavirus infections stemming from a Buddhist institution amid the nationwide outbreak in South Korea. Health authorities are conducting virus tests on some 70 people for potential transmission.

The temple is a small independent organization, not an affiliated temple of a bigger Buddhist order, such as the Jogye Order.

In this photo taken June 28, 2020, a church in Seoul's southwestern ward of Gwanak is closed after a number of COVID-19 cases were reported. (Yonhap)

The religious community is concerned that gatherings at churches and temples could be new epicenters of the resurgence of COVID-19.

The United Christian Churches of Korea (UCCK) have launched talks with the health authorities to discuss ways to slow down the spread of the virus at churches.

"The authorities have asked us to refrain from holding small-scale events as recent confirmed cases are from such meetings," a UCCK official said. "If this upside trend continues, we are considering issuing a message to call for attention."

Most Protestant churches have resumed their weekday services and small-scale seminars, as well as offline chapels, every Sunday since May, when the South Korean government eased strengthened social distancing.

But some noted that massive infections will unlikely spread further in churches as the Christian circle has well complied with social distancing guidelines at face-to-face gatherings.

The Catholic community has remained on their toes, putting most on-site gatherings and religious events on hold for months.

The Catholic Diocese of Suwon, for example, has asked its churches to suspend pastoral visits and meetings except for Masses until end-August.



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