|Passengers on a subway train in the Southeastern city of Daegu sit apart, Monday, after the government enforced two weeks of social distancing nationwide to prevent the spread of COVID-19. /Yonhap|
By Bahk Eun-ji
The central government and municipal administrations are taking stronger action against some Protestant churches and other institutions that have not followed guidelines aimed at preventing any further spread of the highly-contagious COVID-19 pandemic, officials said Monday.
The Seoul Metropolitan Government (SMG) ordered a ban Monday on worship services at several churches including the Sarang Jeil Church in northern Seoul, which violated quarantine guidelines to prevent the virus spreading.
The administrative order was issued after Prime Minister Chung Se-kyun said the government will take stricter measures, including the prohibition of rallies by religious groups that ignore the guidelines.
"What the church did was a serious threat to public safety not only for individuals but also for our entire community. The government order should not be taken only as bluff because we are in an emergency situation that is almost equivalent to wartime," Chung said earlier in the day.
|Followers of Sarang Jeil Church confront civil servants of Seoul Metropolitan Governments and the health authorities during their weekend service at the church in Seongbuk, northern Seoul, Sunday. /Yonhap|
Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said the city government imposed the administrative order against the church for violating guidelines that included checking temperatures, compiling lists of participants, getting people to wear masks and keeping them apart from each other. The city government imposed an order banning it from holding services until April 5.
"The church officials ignored city civil servants' recommendations to follow the guidelines. Instead of following them, the church officials verbally abused the public servants, which is totally unacceptable," Park said during a press briefing at Seoul City Hall.
The metropolitan government had earlier warned that it would file compensation suits if infections occur. Individuals who participate in the rallies or worship services will be fined 3 million won ($2,370) which will be used to help cover the cost of medical treatment and quarantine measures in accordance with the Infectious Disease Prevention Act.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 64 new infections Sunday, bringing the country's total to 8,961. This was the lowest daily number for new cases since Feb.29, which saw the nation's peak at 909. So far, 118 people, mostly elderly patients with underlying diseases, have died here. Of the 64 new cases, 24 were in Daegu and two in North Gyeongsang, the KCDC said. The total number of confirmed cases in Daegu and North Gyeongsang, the two epicenters of the virus outbreak here, stood at 6,411 and 1,256, respectively. Seoul, Incheon and the surrounding Gyeonggi Province saw their new daily infections increase by 20 to 721.
The health authorities have ramped up the social distancing rules to slow the spread of the pandemic. The government announced a set of strong measures for the social distancing of civil servants, employees of public organizations and soldiers. It will last for two weeks as a part of the intensive measures to prevent the virus spreading.
The guidelines include the expansion of telecommuting among civil servants, flexible working hours and restrictions on after-work activities out of the home. The public servants are required to minimize face-to-face meetings or briefings at work.
The transport ministry has introduced the highest quarantine levels for public transit services, in which passengers seated on KTX bullet trains will be separated. The measures apply not only to central government officials but also those at local authorities and other public organizations.