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(2nd LD) 16 new COVID-19 cases linked to Seoul church

All News 19:36 July 23, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS details in last two paras)

SEOUL, July 23 (Yonhap) -- Sixteen new coronavirus virus cases have been identified in relation to a Protestant church in Seoul, officials said Thursday.

The infections, tallied at 2 p.m., traced to Sarang Church in the eastern Seoul ward of Songpa, according to officials.

An infection was first identified Monday. Details on when the additional infections occurred were not immediately available.

The ward office said it has so far tested 136 people who visited the church between July 1 and 20. Eleven of them have tested positive.

Health authorities urged churchgoers to follow safety guidelines, saying they were not kept at the Songpa church.

"Epidemiological studies showed there were cases of (people) who attended services while showing (virus) symptoms," Kwon Joon-wook, deputy director of the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a daily press briefing.

"Additionally, mask wearing was poorly kept among the choir, and singing took place. We've also found that small meetings outside of services, including those involving meals, took place involving the choir."

The outbreak comes just a day before the government's planned lifting of a ban on small church gatherings outside of Sunday services.

Starting July 10, the government imposed a set of measures barring churches from organizing small gatherings, including Bible classes, choir practices or prayer services, and offering group meals.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun announced earlier this week that the government will lift the strict anti-infection rules for churches starting Friday as cases coming from such gatherings have subsided.

Despite the Songpa church case, Kwon said the government will go ahead with partially lifting the anti-virus rules.

"Since it is true that (patients traced to) religious facilities have subsided, the (plan) to ease measures from 6 p.m. on Friday will go ahead as planned," he said, advising churchgoers to refrain from "high-risk activities," such as small group gatherings and group meals.

This July 22, 2020, photo shows health workers testing a visitor for the new coronavirus at a local community screening center in the southeastern Seoul ward of Songpa. (Yonhap)

mlee@yna.co.kr
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