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[Newsmaker] Buddhist monks fined for breaching social distancing guidelines

Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism apologizes for seven Haenam monks’ ‘drinking party’ 

Several Buddhist monks appear to have dinner together with alcoholic drinks, violating social distancing guidelines that ban private gatherings of more than five people. (Yonhap)
Several Buddhist monks appear to have dinner together with alcoholic drinks, violating social distancing guidelines that ban private gatherings of more than five people. (Yonhap)
Buddhist monks are facing criticism after seven of them were caught having a private gathering in violation of local social distancing guidelines.

According to the local government of Haenam in South Jeolla Province, there was a report of several Buddhist monks having a meal together with alcoholic drinks on Monday evening, when the region’s social distancing guidelines prohibiting private gatherings of more than four people had come into effect.

A photograph showed eight people sitting at the same table with food and opened bottles at an accommodation facility owned by a temple in the southwestern coastal county of Haenam.

After conducting an on-site inspection, the local government of Haenam said Wednesday that it had confirmed the violation of social distancing guidelines by a total of eight people -- seven Buddhist monks and the owner of the accommodation facility.

The county plans to impose a fine of 100,000 won ($86) on the seven monks and owner of the accommodation facility, who will also face a separate fine of 1.5 million won as a business owner and a 10-day suspension of operation.

With a population of about 68,000, Haenam county has not reported a COVID-19 case since the a patient confirmed on July 6 marked the 25th infection of the region.

The monks were found to be a part of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism with the accommodation facility belonging to one of the branch’s temples.

The Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism issued a statement on Wednesday, apologizing for causing a trouble in the midst of the ongoing pandemic.

“We repent for the unsavory incident that happened at our temple at a time when the novel coronavirus infections are spreading nationwide. We caused an issue in not following the quarantine rules,” it said.

“The Jogye Order will get to the bottom of this unsavory incident as soon as possible and take reasonable follow-up measures in accordance with our laws and procedures. We will raise the level of alertness about the coronavirus pandemic and issue an administrative order to all temples across the country to prevent such an incident from happening again.”

As the stiffest social distancing guidelines have been put in place for the Greater Seoul area to curb the spread of the virus, many were upset by the incident.

“I do not see my friends because of the quarantine rules and I have been at home all the time. I feel betrayed,” said a 29-year old male living in Seoul.

“I personally am a Buddhist and I am afraid that the public will have a bad perception (because of this incident). I hope this does not create a bad image of Buddhism and its monks.”

By Kan Hyeong-woo (hwkan@heraldcorp.com)
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