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Churches shuttered as South Korea battles coronavirus

Video credit: Reuters Studio
Published on March 1, 2020 - Duration: 02:06s

Churches shuttered as South Korea battles coronavirus

Amid the biggest coronavirus outbreak outside China, churches across South Korea were empty on Sunday with some holding online services and the country's Catholic Church halting mass for the first time in its 236-year history.

David Doyle reports.

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Churches shuttered as South Korea battles coronavirus

Across South Korea on Sunday (March 1) pews were empty, churches shuttered and worshippers turned away as authorities fight to rein in public gatherings after a spike in coronavirus cases.

South Korea is battling the biggest virus outbreak outside China.

On Sunday, it announced 586 new coronavirus infections, taking the total to over 3,700 cases - and the day before saw the country's biggest daily jump, 813 cases.

That's prompted churches to act; for the first time in its history, South Korea's Catholic Church has halted masses at more than 1,700 locations.

(SOUNDBITE) (Korean) 30-YEAR-OLD CATHOLIC CHURCH FOLLOWER, JUNG JI-EUN, SAYING: "The Catholic church has a history of about 236 years, there had been persecution and war in it, but there's never been a suspension of mass, so it's almost every believer's opinion that it is tragic and sad, but despite this, as coronavirus is spreading all over the place, the decision made by the Korean Catholics is a right decision." Buddhist temples have also called off events while major Christian churches held online services.

Of the new cases, 333 were from the southeastern city Daegu - the location of a church at the center of the outbreak.

The head of South Korea's National Institute of Health said that some church members in January visited Wuhan, where the disease emerged late last year.

On Sunday China reported 573 new cases the day before, with nearly 99% concentrated in Wuhan.

That was the highest daily increase in a week, though officials emphasized that the overall situation continues to improve.

As many as 53 countries have reported cases, the World Health Organization said on Saturday (February 29), with Mexico and San Marino the latest additions.

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