March 16 (UPI) -- Clusters of COVID-19 cases have emerged at several churches in South Korea, and one church was found to have used a saltwater spray among its congregation that may have increased the risk of contagion.
Lee Hee-young, co-chief of the Gyeonggi Province COVID-19 Emergency Response team, said Monday local authorities have analyzed surveillance footage of River of Grace Community Church in Seongnam, Gyeonggi Province, Yonhap reported.
Security camera video of services on March 1 and 8 shows church members spraying saltwater in people's mouths, Lee said.
"Our analysis confirms on both days people were receiving oral sprays of saltwater at the entrance of the church," Lee said. "This is a result of misinformation."
Lee used the word "infodemic" to refer to the global problem of misinformation regarding prevention methods for the new strain of coronavirus. Korea reported more than 8,200 cases and 75 deaths on Monday.
The South Korean official also said a church member residing in central Seoul confirmed saltwater was being used. Authorities understand the spray was used on multiple people without being disinfected, according to reports.
River of Grace Community Church is one of three new clusters of infections in areas of Seoul; all three sites are churches. A total of 46 people with links to River of Grace were confirmed for the virus on Monday, and 25 others are connected to two other churches in Gyeonggi Province.
Life-Giving Water Church in the city of Bucheon, one of the other two places of worship, was found to have been visited by one confirmed patient who had attended service on March 8. The patient is linked to the call center in southern Seoul that was the source of a major outbreak in the city last week.
South Korea has urged churches to practice safe hygiene amid the coronavirus epidemic.
More than 80 percent of cases in South Korea are cluster cases. Patients with links to Shincheonji, the secretive religious group that is being held responsible for the biggest outbreak in the country, accounts for about 60 percent of all cases, according to Newsis.