With South Korea being dubbed as the second epicenter of the novel coronavirus or COVID-19 outbreak, and new cases being reported by the dozens, the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Seoul, as a preventive measure, has suspended all meetings and masses at its national cathedral, Myeongdong Cathedral.
Highlighting that the decision was arrived at after taking into consideration the safety of the worshippers, Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, Archbishop of Seoul, said in a statement, "All churches of the Archdiocese of Seoul will stop holding Masses and all indoor and outdoor events for the next 14 days from February 26 through March 10."
13 Catholic dioceses in South Korea suspend masses
The decision comes at a time where the number of confirmed cases in the country has touched 893 in less than a week, with eight deaths. Before the statement by the Archdiocese of Seoul, 12 other dioceses had already announced the suspension of service and gatherings in churches under their jurisdictions, according to Yonhap News Agency.
Of the 16 Catholic dioceses in South Korea, the Seoul Archdiocese is the largest, with 1.52 million Catholics out of the 5.86 million in the country forming its congregations across 232 churches.
Myungsung Church follows suit
After two of its members tested positive for the infection, the Myungsung Church, a Presbyterian church with nearly 80,000 followers, also announced the suspension of Sunday services. The two church members—including a pastor—had attended a funeral a few weeks ago at a hospital in the southeastern county of Cheongdo along with four others.
Interestingly, the hospital they had visited is one of the two clusters responsible for the latest wave of the outbreak, with six out of the eight deaths reported from there. On February 16, the infected pastor had attended service along with 2,000 worshipers at the church located in eastern Seoul.
Catholic pilgrims to Israel test positive
According to Yonhap, 31 Catholic pilgrims who had visited Israel recently, have tested positive for COVID-19. Most of the pilgrims are residents of the southeastern region of North Gyeongsang Province, which is being considered the epicenter of the infection in South Korea.
Following this, a religious newspaper based in Daegu that facilitated the tour, The Catholic Times, has said that it has ceased operations at its Seoul and Daegu offices and all its employees have been quarantined.
The Shincheonji Church of Jesus—Epicenter of the outbreak
The country's biggest outbreak was reported at a church in Daegu, a city in the virus-hit province of North Gyeongsang. The Shincheonji Church of Jesus—the main source of the outbreak in the region—has so far been the source of over 450 confirmed cases.
A 61-year-old church goes, who is being addressed as 'Patient 61' by the authorities, has been traced as the cause of the massive outbreak. In spite of exhibiting symptoms of the novel coronavirus infection on February 10, she participated in masses on several occasions.