SEOUL, July 8 (Yonhap) -- Eight novel coronavirus cases have been reported at a Catholic church northwest of Seoul, raising concerns over another cluster infection at a religious institution in South Korea.
According to health authorities on Wednesday, a total of eight congregants and their family members at Wondang Catholic Church, located in Goyang, just northwest of the capital, have tested positive for the virus.
The city government of Goyang has closed the church and conducted virus tests on some 460 people including congregations of the church.
The infections are the first COVID-19 cases from the Catholic community in South Korea since February, when about 20 Catholics in the southeast of the country, who made a group pilgrimage to Israel, contracted the virus.
The central government said it will ban small church gatherings and catering as almost half of the country's new infections in recent days have come from those kinds of events.
"All churches across the country should comply with key virus prevention guidelines in all events," Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said during a regular government meeting on the response to COVID-19.
"All small church gatherings and catering, except for Sunday services, will be prohibited, and churches should run a mandatory entry log system," he said. "If they break the guidelines, churches can be fined as well as congregations."
South Korea reported 63 more cases of new coronavirus on Wednesday, with the total reaching at 13,244.
Since end-February, when the country was experiencing the peak of the coronavirus pandemic, Catholic churches suspended on-site Masses and offered online services. Protestant churches and the Buddhist temples joined the move.
However, in May, religious institutions emerged as new infection clusters as they resumed face-to-face gatherings and events.
Cases traced to a major Protestant church in Seoul's southwestern ward of Gwanak reached nearly 40, while 25 people related to a large Protestant church in Suwon, which has more than 9,000 congregants, tested positive for COVID-19.
Nearly 100 cases have been related to Gwangleug Temple in Gwangju, some 330 kilometers southwest of Seoul.
Consequently, the Catholic archdiocese in Gwangju has indefinitely put off public masses, as the Gwangju metropolitan government strengthened social distancing guidelines to the second level of the three-grade system.
Two major Protestant church groups in South Korea also urged churches to suspend and scale down summer events in the coming weeks.
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