(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; UPDATES with more info throughout)
SEOUL, Feb. 22 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's prime minister called the fast spread of the new coronavirus in the country a "grave" situation on Saturday and urged people to refrain from holding religious events in crowded places.
Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun issued a special public message to seek the people's cooperation with the government's efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Chung urged people to refrain from holding religious events in crowded places and to devise other ways to carry them out.
"In accordance with law and principles, the government will sternly deal with acts that interfere with quarantine efforts, illegal hoarding of medical goods and acts that spark uneasiness through massive rallies," Chung said in the nationally televised message.
The message came as South Korea reported 229 additional cases of the new coronavirus on Saturday, bringing the total number of infections in the nation to 433.
The number of COVID-19 infections here has soared in the past few days, with most infections traced to a hospital in the southeastern county of Cheongdo and a minor Christian sect in the southeastern city of Daegu, which constitute some 80 percent of the total infections here.
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