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The government of South Korea on Sunday ordered the reopening of large churches,requiring worshipers to observe social distancing policy and wearing of face masks.
Last Sunday, South Korea extended its social distancing policy until May 5 but offered some relief for religious and sports facilities previously subject to strict restrictions.
It has also limited attendance to 700 in a hall with a capacity of 3,000 people, a church official said.
The Shincheonji Church of Jesus, was at the epicentre of South Korea’s coronavirus outbreak, with about half of the country’s total infections of 10,728 linked to its members.
The first confirmed patient in the church, South Korea’s 31st overall, was discharged from a hospital on Friday, after being treated for over two months, the hospital in the south eastern city of Daegu said on Sunday.
When restrictions were put in place, South Korean churches turned to online or drive-in services, where church goers attended by parking their cars on school play grounds.
Onnuri Church, one of the biggest churches in Seoul, required members to sign up online ahead of the service and sit on designated seats to maintain distance.
Yang Sun-kyung, who went to the Onnuri church for the first time in two months, said she is able to concentrate better when attending church rather than during online worship which was sometimes distracting.
“I hope this (our church) can be an exemplary case for others,’’ Han Jin-gun, a 34-year-old worshiper at Onnuri said.
South Korea managed to curb the first major outbreak outside China with massive testing and aggressive contact tracing but there have been a series of small outbreaks involving churches and other clusters.
South Korea on Sunday reported 10 new cases, marking the eight day when the number of new infections hovered around that level.
On Sunday, South Korean health authorities expressed concerns about the resurgence of virus, with more people going out on weekends as social distancing rules ease and ahead of a holiday that will start on Thursday.
There is a higher chance of infection inc onfined and dense places like churches, clubs and bars, especially among those in their twenties who account for the biggest portion of infected people, Jeong Eun-kyeong, Director of the Korea Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), told a briefing.
Church members however, expressed faith in the ability of the South Korea government and churches to tackle the coronavirus outbreak pandemic.

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