SEOUL: South Korea announced a new COVID-19 cluster linked to 13 small churches in and around Seoul on Monday (Jun 1).
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC) reported 35 new cases on Monday, including 30 local infections, raising the total number of COVID-19 cases in the country to 11,503.
Of the new cases, 23 patients were traced to 11 churches in Incheon and two churches in the Gyeonggi province. Seoul, Incheon and Gyeonggi make up the capital's metropolitan area, home to half of South Korea's population.
"It is presumed that transmission occurred between participants through events such as prayer meetings and praise meetings which the churches took turns hosting," KCDC said on its website.
"Contact management and investigation on the source of infection is underway."
A separate cluster of nine cases was also identified, related to a "pastors group" in the Gunpo and Anyang area of Gyeonggi province.
"It is presumed that transmission occurred through a gathering Jeju Island during May 25 to May 27, (which) 25 members from 12 churches participated. Investigation is underway for contacts of each church of the ministers," said the KCDC.
The new church-linked cases add to a total of 74 patients detected in May who are related to various church groups.
"In light of the recent ongoing spread of COVID-19 through bible studies, weekday meetings, and other religious gatherings, KCDC urged faith communities to refrain from gathering and switch to non-face-to-face meetings," the agency added.
South Korea also reported one more death from COVID-19 on Monday, taking its total number of deceased to 271.
Seventeen more people were released from isolation, bringing the country's total to 10,422.
A series of mass infections tied to night clubs and an e-commerce warehouse occurred recently in Seoul, after the country eased social distancing measures and millions of students went back to schools.
There were 270 cases linked to clubs in Seoul's Itaewon district as of Sunday.
As of Monday, 112 cases were linked to the Coupang logistics centre cluster in Gyeonggi.
South Korea re-imposed some social distancing measures on Thursday in response to the fresh outbreaks. Authorities also announced on Friday that only a third of pupils going to schools in the Seoul metropolitan area can physically attend school each day, with the others remote learning.