All in-person church services will be suspended in light of the recent virus outbreak in South Korea's capital city and surrounding provinces, Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun said Tuesday.
In a televised address, Chung said that South Korea was at a critical crossroads, where failure to contain the current cluster would lead to a nationwide epidemic.
The number of virus cases remained in triple digits, with 246 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, the South Korean Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Tuesday.
“On August 16, the government strengthened virus control measures, including raising the social distancing level to 2 for Seoul and Gyeonggi Province, but as the spread has not subsided and is fast, concerns are raised over the possibility of a nationwide epidemic,” Chung said.
Seoul church cluster: Tracing congregations who attended church services is proving difficult in South Korea, Chung said, as inaccurate attendee lists made it hard to contact trace after a cluster was identified.
On Monday, Seoul's government reported a cluster of cases related to a church in the city. More than 450 people linked to the Sarang-jeil church have tested positive for the virus, authorities said.
Chung said that church members are spread throughout the country increasing "the possibility of transmission to other districts."
Online church services would be permitted but all other gatherings and events were banned, Chung said.
Churches are among 12 high-risk venues which will be shuttered. Clubs, karaoke bars, buffet restaurants, and internet cafes will also be closed in Seoul, the neighboring Gyeonggi Province and Incheon.
The city of Seoul, Greater Seoul and the neighboring Gyeonggi Province are subject to level two social distancing restrictions, meaning indoor gatherings are limited to 50 and outdoor gatherings to 100.