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Concerns grow over church-linked infection clusters

By Jun Ji-hye

Churches are emerging again as hotspots of COVID-19 infections here with most new cases reported Monday being traced to religious gatherings.

This is putting the health authorities on edge following the case of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a minor religious sect based in Daegu, which was the center of the surge in infections here in February and March.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said 23 new patients were traced to 13 small churches ― 11 in Incheon and two in Gyeonggi Province ― as of noon, Monday.

"Members of these churches are believed to have participated in prayer services together and spread the virus to each other," KCDC Director Jung Eun-kyeong said during a media briefing. "We are working to determine who patient zero was there."

Jung added that one patient in his 70s linked to the churches has died from the virus, while another in her 80s is in critical condition, stressing that elderly citizens over 60 need to take extra care amid the public health crisis.

Earlier in the day, the KCDC reported 35 new infections, and one more death, for Sunday, which brought the country's total to 11,503, and the death toll to 271.

Of the 35 new cases, 30 were local infections, while five were "imported" ones.

Yoon Tae-ho, a senior health ministry official in charge of containment measures, noted that 24 out of the 30 were traced to the gatherings at the churches.

Among the 24 were five patients in Anyang and four in Gunpo, Gyeonggi Province, who were pastors and churchgoers who went to Jeju Island together from May 25 to 27.

"People sit down close to each other, talk and eat together at the religious gatherings. Respiratory droplets can be easily transferred in this environment," Yoon said. "We ask religious facilities to refrain from holding person-to-person meetings for the time being."

In a bid to better track and contain COVID-19, the government began testing quick response (QR) code-based entry logs, Monday, at 19 facilities visited by many people, including nightclubs, churches, cinemas and libraries located in Seoul, Incheon and Daejeon.

After the week-long test, the digital entry registers will be expanded nationwide, beginning June 10.

The measure comes after inaccurate entry logs at nightclubs in Seoul's Itaewon, a recent hotbed of coronavirus infections, made it more difficult for the health authorities to promptly carry out epidemiological investigations and find additional infections.

Meanwhile, the government eased rules involving its mask distribution system Monday, allowing citizens to buy face masks on any day of the week.

The decision comes as the nationwide mask supply remains stable.

Until Sunday, citizens could buy three masks a week, on an assigned day depending on their birth year under the public distribution system that was introduced amid a mask supply shortage.

The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety said the eased system allows masks to be bought any day of the week, noting that those older than 19 continue to be allowed three masks per week, while students under 18 can buy up to five as they are returning to school.


By Jun Ji-hye

Churches are emerging again as hotspots of COVID-19 infections here with most new cases reported Monday being traced to religious gatherings.

This is putting the health authorities on edge following the case of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a minor religious sect based in Daegu, which was the center of the surge in infections here in February and March.

The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) said 23 new patients were traced to 13 small churches ― 11 in Incheon and two in Gyeonggi Province ― as of noon, Monday.

"Members of these churches are believed to have participated in prayer services together and spread the virus to each other," KCDC Director Jung Eun-kyeong said during a media briefing. "We are working to determine who patient zero was there."

Jung added that one patient in his 70s linked to the churches has died from the virus, while another in her 80s is in critical condition, stressing that elderly citizens over 60 need to take extra care amid the public health crisis.

Earlier in the day, the KCDC reported 35 new infections, and one more death, for Sunday, which brought the country's total to 11,503, and the death toll to 271.

Of the 35 new cases, 30 were local infections, while five were "imported" ones.

Yoon Tae-ho, a senior health ministry official in charge of containment measures, noted that 24 out of the 30 were traced to the gatherings at the churches.

Among the 24 were five patients in Anyang and four in Gunpo, Gyeonggi Province, who were pastors and churchgoers who went to Jeju Island together from May 25 to 27.

"People sit down close to each other, talk and eat together at the religious gatherings. Respiratory droplets can be easily transferred in this environment," Yoon said. "We ask religious facilities to refrain from holding person-to-person meetings for the time being."

In a bid to better track and contain COVID-19, the government began testing quick response (QR) code-based entry logs, Monday, at 19 facilities visited by many people, including nightclubs, churches, cinemas and libraries located in Seoul, Incheon and Daejeon.

After the week-long test, the digital entry registers will be expanded nationwide, beginning June 10.

The measure comes after inaccurate entry logs at nightclubs in Seoul's Itaewon, a recent hotbed of coronavirus infections, made it more difficult for the health authorities to promptly carry out epidemiological investigations and find additional infections.

Meanwhile, the government eased rules involving its mask distribution system Monday, allowing citizens to buy face masks on any day of the week.

The decision comes as the nationwide mask supply remains stable.

Until Sunday, citizens could buy three masks a week, on an assigned day depending on their birth year under the public distribution system that was introduced amid a mask supply shortage.

The Ministry of Food and Drug Safety said the eased system allows masks to be bought any day of the week, noting that those older than 19 continue to be allowed three masks per week, while students under 18 can buy up to five as they are returning to school.


Jun Ji-hye jjh@koreatimes.co.kr

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