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Coronavirus cluster traced to German church

May 23, 2020

Places of worship in Germany opened their doors again at the start of May. But now a new COVID-19 cluster has been linked to one religious service.

The prayer hall near Frankfurt am Main
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/B. Roessler

A cluster of 40 coronavirus infections in the city of Frankfurt am Main and the surrounding area have been linked back to a Baptist church service that took place on May 10, reported German news outlet der Tagesspiegel on Saturday.

"The vast majority of them are not especially ill," said the newspaper, citing Rene Gottschalk, the Frankfurt health authority's chief. "According to our current information, only one person has been hospitalized," added Gottschalk.

Read more: Coronavirus — Germans go back to church, but no singing allowed

The state of Hesse, where the church is based, banned religious ceremonies and gatherings from mid-March as part of restrictions implemented nationwide to slow the spread of the coronavirus. But Hesse permitted religious ceremonies to resume from May 1 as long as social distancing and other hygiene measures are implemented, meaning the church broke no rules in holding the service.

Infections traced from Hanau

At least 16 infection cases in the town of Hanau, 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) east of Frankfurt, have been traced back to the May 10 church service, said Hanau authorities.

 "It's a very dynamic event," Antoni Walczok, head of Hanau's health authority, said in comments to German daily newspaper, Frankfurter Rundschau.

Religion in Germany

As a result of the new infections, the town has called off a fasting and prayer gathering for more than 1,000 participants from several Muslim institutions in the Rhine-Main region. The risk for further infections was "too high," explained Hanau mayor Claus Kaminsky.

Read more: Fasting and Netflix — Ramadan in times of coronavirus

For many Muslims, the coronavirus lockdown has been particularly hard, as preventative measures have stopped them gathering for prayer and breaking fast together during the holy month of Ramadan.

Trump calls for places of worship to reopen

The virus cluster comes as US President Donald Trump said churches were "essential" and urged them to be allowed to reopen, despite the country having the world's highest virus infection rate and death toll at over 1.6 million infections with over 96,000 deaths.

"Governors need to do the right thing and allow these very important essential places of faith to open right now for this weekend," said Trump during a press conference at the White House, threatening to "override" governors who do not listen to him.

Some areas of the US are still under coronavirus lockdown and it is unclear what authority Trump has to overrule governors' decisions.

kmm/rc (AP,dpa)

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