Gyeonggi Gov. Lee Jae-myung issued an administrative order Tuesday making it mandatory for residents and visitors in Gyeonggi Province to wear face masks indoors and outdoors as coronavirus cases surge in the Seoul metropolitan area at an alarming rate.
The Gyeonggi provincial government also ordered worshippers from Sarang Jeil Church and anyone who attended a massive Liberation Day rally held Saturday in central Seoul to be tested for the coronavirus.
It marks the second time that a local government in South Korea has mandated face masks. Daegu’s city government took the same action in May.
Gyeonggi Province, which surrounds the capital and is home to 13 million people, is seeing a spike in COVID-19 cases traced mainly to the Seoul-based Sarang Jeil Church, which was associated with a cluster of over 400 cases as of Tuesday afternoon.
The accumulated number of cases traced to the church, led by conservative pastor Jun Kwang-hoon, reached 457, according to health authorities, as the country reported 257 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday. The total caseload rose to 15,761.
In Gyeonggi Province, 119 cases were reported so far in connection with the church, which is now the second-largest cluster of infections in Korea to date. The Shincheonji Church of Jesus, with 5,214 cases from the first peak in February and March, is the largest.
“We are in a very critical situation where a second wave (of COVID-19 infections) could become a reality,” Lee said at a press conference Tuesday.
Under the order, which will remain in place until further notice, residents and visitors will be required to cover their noses and mouths both indoors and outdoors. They will only be allowed to take their masks off in exceptional cases, such as while having meals.
Those who break the rule may face fines of up to 3 million won ($2,500) for violating the Infectious Disease Control and Prevention Act.
Also, among Gyeonggi residents, those who attended either of the rallies Aug. 8 or Aug. 15 are required to be tested for the virus, as well as anyone who was in the vicinity of the rallies around the times when they were going on. Tests will be provided free of charge for those who take them by Aug. 30.
Those who violate the order may face up to two years in prison or fines of up to 20 million won.
By Ock Hyun-ju (firstname.lastname@example.org)