South Korea’s big churches reopen

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South Korea’s large churches reopened on Sunday, requiring worshipers to keep their distance and wear masks, after the government relaxed restrictions on religious gatherings aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus.

Last Sunday, South Korea extended its social distancing policy until May 5 but offered some relief for religious and sports facilities previously subject to strict restrictions.

A secretive church, the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, was at the epicenter of South Korea’s coroavirus outbreak, with about half of the country’s total infections of 10,728 linked to its members.

Yoido Full Gospel Church reopens chapel after government eases social distancing
Members of Yoido Full Gospel Church, the biggest Protestant church in South Korea, attend a Sunday service, in Seoul, South Korea, 26 April 2020, as the church reopened its chapel after the government lowered the intensity of its social distancing campaign amid a slowdown in new coronavirus cases. EPA-EFE/YONHAP

South Korea managed to curb the first major outbreak outside China with massive testing and aggressive contact tracing but there have been a series of small outbreaks involving churches and other clusters.

South Korea on Sunday reported 10 new cases, marking the eight day when the number of new infections hovered around that level.

Church members expressed faith in the ability by South Korea and churches to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.

Churches resume Sunday services in South Korea amid infection slowdown
Catholics attend a public Mass at Myeongdong Cathedral in central Seoul, South Korea, 26 April 2020. The Sunday Mass was the first to be held after the government lowered the intensity of its social distancing campaign amid a slowdown in new coronavirus cases. EPA-EFE/YONHAP

“I did not have fear. I believed that the church would abide by safe principles and resume worships,” Kang Hye-mi, a 29-year-old worshiper, said at Myeongdong Catholic Cathedral in Seoul. When restrictions were put in place, South Korean churches turned to online or drive-in services where churchgoers attended by parking their cars on school playgrounds.

Yang Sun-kyung, who went to the Onnuri church for the first time in two months, said she is able to concentrate better when attending church rather than during online worship which was sometimes distracting.

She said churches are a “very safe” place, but people should refrain from going to bars and clubs, which are “very dangerous.” “I hope this (our church) can be an exemplary case for others. And I hope the coronavirus would end as soon as possible,” Han Jin-gun, a 34-year-old worshiper at Onnuri said.

Reuters / South China Morning Post 

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