Churches reopen in South Korea as coronavirus cases reach minimum
People must respect social distancing, wear masks, and book online to attend services. Meetings in large indoor spaces remain a source of concern. Half of all the cases are connected to the Shincheonji Christian sect. The lowest number of cases since February 18 was recorded yesterday.
Seoul (AsiaNews) – Churches in South Korea yesterday welcomed their members whilst respecting social distancing with everyone required to wear protective masks. The drop in cases has allowed the authorities to lift some restrictions on public meetings.
However, despite the easing of restrictions, some Churches have decided to keep more stringent rules than those required by the government. For example, the Onnuri Community Presbyterian Church in Seoul, which has a 3,000-person capacity, limits entry to only 700 people, and only through an online booking.
Social distancing measures have been extended to 5 May, but people have begun to resume their social and economic life. South Korea’s coronavirus response is among the best in the world: a more "democratic" form of intervention than China's draconian model.
Speed is the key to South Korea’s success, underpinned by an excellent healthcare system. The government quickly cut links with China, where the pandemic broke out, introducing strict quarantine measures for people entering the country. Health authorities then launched massive testing and contact tracing.
During the period of social confinement, religious communities were able to hold their services and stream them online. They also offered “drive-in” services, i.e. spiritual support in school parking lots with people inside their cars.
In February, at the height of the crisis, Bishop Lazarus You Heung-sik of Daejeon, who chairs the Social Affairs Commission of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea, invited the faithful to pray, but also to undertake concrete actions. “Even reciting the Rosary every day is enough, or other deeds of charity and penance,” he said.
The authorities still consider large indoor spaces as high risk. Nevertheless, not only churches, but also sports facilities can now open if they respect health guidelines.
This concern is based on the experience of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a Christian sect, the main carrier of infection into the country. In early March, 56.1 per cent of cases involved its members.
Some of them had visited Wuhan (Hubei), the epicentre of the pandemic, after 23 January, when the Chinese city was placed under a lockdown. Even today, half of South Korea’s 10,728 cases are connected to Shincheonji.
Yesterday eight new cases were reported in the country, the lowest number since 18 February.