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Government cracks down on church for violating anti-outbreak measures

A member of the church`s congregation faces a city official on Sunday. Yonhap
A member of the church`s congregation faces a city official on Sunday. Yonhap

The Seoul Metropolitan Government on Monday issued a “prohibition of gatherings” order on a church that violated government guidelines on social distancing.

The move came hours after Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun on Monday warned that firm legal measures will be taken against groups that violate measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.

The church, run by Rev. Jun Kwang-hoon, held a service on Sunday that violated the social distancing guidelines. According to Seoul City, about 2,000 members of the church’s congregation gathered for a service between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on Sunday, during which the churchgoers were seated less than 1 meter apart. Jun, who heads a campaign calling for President Moon Jae-in to step down, is currently under arrest over alleged violations of the Public Official Election Act.

In a briefing, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon warned that if Jun’s church ignores the prohibition, valid until April 5, the city will issue a fine of 3 million won ($2,360) per person.

Park said the order was issued because the church’s actions “seriously violate the safety of society,” and the church service presented a large risk of cluster transmission.

According to the city government, the church did not compile an accurate list of the participants and some of the congregation did not wear protective masks.

The government has requested that religious groups refrain from holding offline gatherings and ensure that participants maintain a distance of 1 to 2 meters if they do opt to hold services.

While most religious groups are complying with the government’s guidelines, nearly half of churches here continue to hold services.

According to the government, 57.5 percent the country’s 26,104 churches have stopped holding services or have introduced online services. Of those that continue, most are following guidelines introduced to prevent the spread of the virus, but 3,185 churches have been targeted for administrative disciplinary action for failing to adhere to guidelines.

Earlier in the day, the prime minister warned that legal measures will be taken against groups that violate quarantine measures, saying such actions place participants in large gatherings and society in general at risk.

Chung also said the social distancing measures are necessary to bring the COVID-19 outbreak under control before schools reopen April 6.

By Choi He-suk (cheesuk@heraldcorp.com)
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