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Coronavirus prompts Church in South Korea to suspend Mass for first time in centuries

With new coronavirus cases exceeding 2,000, South Korea’s Catholic Church is suspending Mass nationwide for the first time in the church’s history. 

Following an outbreak at a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus sect in the southeastern city of Daegu, which has seen new coronavirus cases surge across the country, all 16 dioceses of the Catholic Church agreed to halt Mass on Feb. 26, Yonhap News Agency reports

This is the first time in 236 years such as step has been taken by the local Church which numbers about 5.9 million South Korean Catholics in its care.

It follows the closure of churches last week in the Daegu Archdiocese and the Andong Diocese, covering the virus-hit city of Daegu and the province where it is situated — North Gyeongsang.

Protestant churches in the country are also scaling back services. 

South Korea reported 256 new coronavirus cases on Feb. 28, bringing the infection total to 2,022, Reuters reports, citing the Korea Centers for Disease and Control and Prevention. The death toll in the country stands at 13. 

Upwards of 90 percent of the new cases were registered in Daegu and North Gyeongsang province.

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Checks are being carried on on the 210,000 plus members of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus, a secretive religious group. The outbreak began when a 61-year-old member developed symptoms on Feb. 10, but attended church at least four more times. 

Pedestrians wearing face masks walk in front of the Daegu branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus sect in the southeastern city of Daegu on Feb. 24. (Photo by Jung Yeon-je/AFP)

The role of the church in the current outbreak has sparked public outrage, prompting an online petition to have the secretive religious group, which has over 240,000 followers, banned, The Korea Herald reports.

Meanwhile, 18 South Korean pilgrims who visited Israel this month have tested positive for new coronavirus, Ynetnews reports, doubling the number of infections in the country. 

Israel reacted by extending an entry ban for South Korea and Japan, while Israeli nationals who have traveled to those countries will have to self-quarantine for 14 days. 

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