Starting this weekend, City Harvest Church, a controversial 16,000-member megachurch in Singapore, has suspended all physical meetings and will instead meet online as the global outbreak surged to more than 64,000 cases Friday.
The number of COVID-19 (formal name of coronavirus) cases in Singapore has risen to at least 58 cases.
“In view of the increasing number of cases of COVID-19 this past week, we have decided the best thing for our congregation is to bring service online. This means, we do NOT meet physically at Suntec for service, but stay home and worship online together through The CHC App or our website,” the church announced in a statement Thursday.
Mainland China, the epicenter of the new disease, which is accompanied by symptoms that may include a fever, coughing or shortness of breath, has recorded 5,090 more cases, bringing the global total to 64,435 CNN reported. At least 1,383 people, including three outside mainland China, have died from the disease.
Singapore, a nation of just 5.7 million, has one of the highest number of coronavirus cases outside of China. And while no one in Singapore has died yet from the disease, Janil Puthucheary, senior minister of state at Singapore’s Ministry of Transport and Ministry of Communications and Information, warned that the country should prepare for more infections.
“I think it’s really too early to talk about a peak. Cases are coming in on a daily basis and you have to have the expectation there are going to be more cases over the next few weeks,” he told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia.”
“The issue is really whether these are going to be cases that are linked to the existing spread, existing cluster, links to China or whether we have an increasing number of cases that are unlinked community spread ... At the moment, most of the cases can be linked back to known clusters,” he added.
Calling the suspension of physical meetings temporary, City Harvest Church leaders said they plan to monitor the outbreak of the virus and are looking forward to meeting physically again but noted that they had to put the safety of members first.
“This is not an easy decision for us to make—you know that we love coming together as the body of Christ to worship the Lord. But our congregation is not small, and we have members young and old. As leaders, we feel strongly we must do what we can to protect our flock, as the risk of infection is relatively high right now,” the leaders said.
“Our faith is not shaken. As a church we continue to hold on to God’s promises in His Word, that ‘He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty,’ (Psalm 91:1). However, it is wise to be prudent and socially responsible. Having our services online will also help us make sure church can go on during this time. We are grateful to the Lord we have our online facilities, so we can stay connected for weekend services through the Internet.”
City Harvest Church joins several other religious groups across the multi-faith island nation that has canceled meetings as the government has advised businesses to defer or cancel all nonessential, large-scale events, Reuters reported.
In 2017, City Harvest Church’s founder Pastor Kong Hee and four others were convicted of misappropriating S$50 million of church funds. He was released last August after serving just about two-thirds of his 3.5-year prison sentence.