The government of Gyeonggi Province, which surrounds Seoul, issued an administrative order on Tuesday imposing strict conditions on church worship services to help combat the coronavirus outbreak.
Under the administrative order, the first of its kind issued in South Korea, the provincial government will enforce guidelines for mass gatherings at 137 churches that have been caught failing to comply with its guidance for preventing the spread of COVID-19.
The government said it will enforce seven requirements for worship services at the 137 churches from Tuesday to March 29 on the basis of the Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act.
The churches are ordered to provide a list of attendees and their contact numbers and not to offer meals to them, while being instructed to observe the five existing requirements -- fever checkup, mask wearing, installation of hand sanitizer, 2-meter distance among participants and disinfection before and after services.
Churches caught violating the guidelines will face an outright ban on offline services or a fine, officials said. If coronavirus infections occur from violators, the government will also demand an indemnity over the relevant quarantine and treatment expenses, they added.
The administrative order came one day after it was reported that a cluster transmission of the coronavirus had infected more than 50 members of a protestant church in Seongnam, just south of Seoul. Two other churches, in Suwon and Bucheon, both near Seoul, have reported 10 and 15 COVID-19 infections, respectively, among their followers, escalating public concern about the spread of cluster infections originating from churchgoers.
South Korea on Tuesday reported 84 new cases of the coronavirus to total 8,320, marking the third consecutive day the number of new cases was below 100. Seoul has so far reported 265 confirmed cases, while Gyeonggi Province's coronavirus patients increased to 262.
Lee Jae-myung, governor of Gyeonggi Province, met with the province's religious leaders on Feb. 28 to encourage them to hold online services to help curb the coronavirus outbreak. But a large number of churches have failed to heed the request.
According to provincial officials, 2,635, about 40 percent, of the province's 6,578 churches went ahead with offline worship services last Sunday, with many of them failing to observe the quarantine guidance. (Yonhap)