SEOUL, Nov. 7 (Korea Bizwire) — People flocked to churches and temples in South Korea on Sunday to attend worship services on the first weekend since the country began easing virus restrictions as part of steps to return to pre-pandemic normalcy.
South Korea on Monday kicked off the first of the three-stage “living with COVID-19″ scheme to gradually phase out coronavirus restrictions as more than 70 percent of the population have been fully vaccinated.
Under the eased rules, in-person worship services are now allowed to take up to 50 percent of their capacity regardless of attendees’ vaccination status.
If the attendees are comprised only of fully vaccinated people or those who submit negative PCR test results, no such cap is applied.
When the toughest rules were in place, in-person worship services were allowed at a limited capacity of 10 percent, after gatherings there were blamed for a series of cluster infections across the country.
As of 10 a.m., a long queue was formed in front of Myeongdong Cathedral in central Seoul.
Since Monday, the cathedral has been taking 600 attendees for each Mass on a first-come, first-served basis regardless of their vaccination status.
Attendees were seen registering their QR codes and checking temperatures before entering the main hall.
“I always come early as there are still restrictions on the number of attendees,” 89-year-old Lee Bon-young said.
Yoido Full Gospel Church, the world’s largest Christian congregation, was also packed with followers Sunday morning who waited in line to get their temperatures checked and register in an entry log to attend a worship service.
“We are allowing only fully vaccinated followers to enter the chapel,” a church official said, adding that some 6,000 people are estimated to have visited the church, which can take up to 12,000 people, on the day.
At the Jogye Temple, the headquarters of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism in central Seoul, around 200 seats were prepared outside the main hall, which was mostly filled before 10 a.m.
“I am glad we can pray together again, though I have to say concerns linger over breakthrough cases,” Kim Jeong-ja, 81, said.
On Sunday, South Korea reported 2,224 new COVID-19 cases, marking the fifth straight day for the figure to stay over 2,000. The total caseload rose to 379,935.