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(LEAD) Gov't limits church activities in Seoul area to non-contact worship services

All News 18:09 August 18, 2020

(ATTN: UPDATES with more info in 3rd para, from 6th para)

SEOUL, Aug. 18 (Yonhap) -- The South Korean government announced a decision Tuesday to prohibit churches in Seoul and nearby areas from carrying out all activities except for contactless worship services as part of toughened measures to curb the rapid spread of the new coronavirus.

In a public statement, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun also said the government will elevate the social distancing rules in Incheon, a port city just west of Seoul, to Level Two. The government imposed the measure on Seoul and Gyeonggi Province last weekend.

"With regard to churches in the greater capital area, only noncontact services will be allowed and all other gatherings and activities will be prohibited," he said.

The steps are set to take effect at the start of Wednesday, Chung said.

"New COVID-19 cases are growing at an explosive rate ... causing a chain of infections in churches, workplaces and hospitals," he said.

Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun announces toughened quarantine measures on Aug. 18, 2020 amid spiking COVID-19 cases in Seoul and the broader capital area. (Yonhap)

"The accelerating speed of the spread is causing concerns for possible mass outbreaks nationwide," he said, adding that the country is at a critical juncture in stopping virus transmissions from spiraling into a nationwide pandemic.

Should the ongoing anti-virus efforts fail, there would be no other choice but to toughen social distancing to Level Three, the highest, according to the prime minister.

Under the Level Two social distancing, indoor gatherings of 50 or more people and outdoor events of 100 or more people are prohibited while citizens are advised to stay at home except on necessary occasions.

The Level Three call for restrictions on all outdoor activities except for essential social and economic purposes. Gathering of 10 or more people are not permitted and all sports events are suspended.

Residents of Seoul's Nowon Ward wait to get tested for the new coronavirus at a test center on Aug. 18, 2020. (Yonhap)

The latest policy was adopted as South Korea's daily additional COVID-19 cases increased by triple digits for the fifth straight day, due mainly to cluster infections traced to churches, especially one in northern Seoul.

The country added 246 more COVID-19 cases Tuesday, raising the total caseload to 15,761, according to the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC).

Sarang Jeil Church in Seoul's Seongbuk Ward has been at the center of the recent spikes, with a total of 457 infection cases reported in relation with the church.

pbr@yna.co.kr
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