South Korea coronavirus fears as places of worship become worrying new hotspot

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The religious community has sparked concerns over the potential contagion in places of worship. On Tuesday, Seoul’s southwestern ward of Gwanak reported 31 infections linked to a major church in the region.

A church in Anyang, south of Seoul reported a further 23 connected to a local church.

Eight infections were also linked to a church in Suwon, which has more than 9,000 devotees.

At least 14 infections which were related to Gwangleug Temple in Gwangju were recorded.

The are the first Covid-19 cases linked to a Buddhist place of worship as South Korea fights the coronavirus pandemic.

Health authorities are carrying out coronavirus tests on some 70 people for potential infection.

The institution is a small independent body, not an associate of a bigger Buddhist congregation, such as the Jogye Order.

The alarm has been raised among the religious community as crowds in places of worship could be hotspots for the transmission of coronavirus.

The United Christian Churches of Korea (UCCK) have initiated discussion with health officials to draw up plans to slow down the transmission of the pathogen at churches.

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“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 gone back to their weekday services and small seminars, as well as offline chapels, every Sunday since May, after the South Korean government lifted stringent restrictions.

But some have argued that mass transmission is not likely to happen in churches, considering the Christian community has abided by the social distancing rules at in-person congregations.

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The Catholic circle adjourned most face-to-face gatherings and events for months.

The Catholic Diocese of Suwon, for example, has requested its sites to put pastoral visits and gatherings on hold at the exception of Masses until late August.

It comes after the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said it was apparent that a holiday weekend in early May was the start of a new outbreak.

The new infections had its focus mainly in the populous Seoul area.

“In the metropolitan area, we believe that the first wave was from March to April as well as February to March,” the KCDC director, Jeong Eun-kyeong, told reporters.

“Then we see that the second wave, which was triggered by the May holiday, has been going on.”

“We originally predicted that the second wave would emerge in fall or winter,” Mr Jeong added.

“Our forecast turned out to be wrong.

“As long as people have close contact with others, we believe that infections will continue.”

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