A church in South Korea sprayed salt water inside the mouths of followers out of a false belief it would help prevent the spread of the coronavirus, but by using the same spray bottle without disinfecting the nozzle, it resulted in 46 church-goers infected, authorities said on Monday.
Video images from the River of Grace Community Church in Gyeonggi Province, south of Seoul, show a church official sticking the nozzle of a spray bottle deep into the mouth of one follower after another, during a prayer gathering attended by some 100 followers on March 1 and March 8. Those infected include the pastor and his wife.
“It’s been confirmed that they put the nozzle of the spray bottle inside the mouth of a follower who was later confirmed as a patient, before they did likewise for other followers as well, without disinfecting the sprayer,” said Lee Hee-young, head of Gyeonggi Province’s coronavirus task force.
“This made it inevitable for the virus to spread,” he said. “They did so out of the false belief that salt water kills the virus.”
The church was consequently closed and all its believers who attended the prayer sessions are being tested.
The new cases have fuelled the South Korean government’s vigilance to detect new virus clusters, especially in city areas, even as it has managed to slow the spread of infections.
South Korea confirmed 74 new cases on Monday, bringing its total tally to 8,236. The number of new cases was below 100 for the second consecutive day, and the number of people released from care on Sunday after a full recovery also surpassed the number of new infections.
“It is still too early to relax,” Prime Minister Chung Sye Kyun said at a regular briefing. “The government will concentrate its efforts on preventing cluster infections.”
Gyeonggi Province has a population of 14 million, and about three in five of its 6,578 churches have complied with a request from the province to suspend gatherings, resorting to online prayers.
Authorities have urged churches that continue to hold large gatherings to conduct temperature checks of their followers at the entry gates, and to ensure they wear face masks and sit sparsely.
But many have failed to comply with such requests, resulting in new clusters of infection.
Aside from 46 confirmed cases at the River of Grace Community Church, a total of 25 other cases in the same province were reported from two other churches – 15 at a church in Bucheon City, and 10 at a church in Suwon City.
“We again call for proactive participation by churches in preventing further spread of the virus, including changes to their ways of worshipping,” Lee said.