South Korea closes churches as coronavirus tally passes 3,500


Modified 1 Mar 2020, 7:49 am

CORONAVIRUS | Churches were closed in South Korea today with many holding online services instead, as authorities fought to rein in public gatherings, with 376 new coronavirus infections taking the tally to 3,526 cases.

That came a day after the biggest daily jump of 813 cases in South Korea’s battle with the largest virus outbreak outside China, said the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), which will update numbers later in the day.

The death toll of 17 was unchanged from yesterday, it added.

In Seoul, the capital, about a dozen worshippers were turned away from the Yoido Full Gospel Church, which put a sermon for its 560,000 followers on YouTube, filmed with a small choir instead of all 200 members and 60-strong orchestra.

“I had heard there would be no service, but just came to check as I live nearby, but, yes, it is so empty,” said one of them, Song Young-koo, as he left South Korea’s biggest church.

“It’s a wise decision to do it online since the virus would easily spread at mass gatherings and churches. There can be no exception.”

Of the new cases, 333 were from the southeastern city of Daegu, the location of a church at the centre of the outbreak, and 26 from the nearby province of North Gyeongsang, KCDC said.

Health authorities have urged South Koreans to refrain from attending religious services and political events and stay indoors this weekend, warning of a “critical moment” in the battle on the virus.

For the first time in its 236-year history, South Korea’s Catholic church decided to halt masses at more than 1,700 locations nationwide.

Buddhist temples have also called off events, while major Christian churches held online services.

At Yongsan in central Seoul, a notice outside the large Samil Presbyterian Church advised parishioners all gatherings had been cancelled, with the parking area closed off.

Help for North Korea

President Moon Jae-in called for unity and vowed greater efforts, including an extra budget, to fight the outbreak, in a speech for the 101st anniversary of a movement to win independence from Japanese colonial rule.

“The outbreak can threaten our lives temporarily, but it cannot break our unity and hope,” Moon said in the speech.

Moon (below) proposed joint efforts with North Korea to prevent an outbreak in the neighbour and improve healthcare.

North Korea has not confirmed any cases but imposed a month-long quarantine for those with symptoms, and state media said its leader, Kim Jong-un, held a meeting on stricter measures.

The crisis spooked trade and financial markets, leading Samsung Electronics, Hyundai Motor and LG Display to temporarily shut down a plant each and prompting boy band BTS to cancel a world tour set for April.

In a statement, Seoul’s foreign ministry said Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha asked Washington to avoid “excessive action that could needlessly shrink exchanges between both countries,” in a telephone call today with US Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun.

The request came after the US advised Americans not to travel to hard-hit regions, such as Daegu. — Reuters