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A pastor in the US claims more than 1,300 people attended his Easter service yesterday (12 April) in defiance of social distancing measures.
Reverend Tony Spell said he welcomed a congregation of 1,345 at his church in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, according to TMZ, despite federal guidance urging people to social distance to help stop the spread of coronavirus.
The United States has recorded more than 22,000 deaths and there are over 560,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus at the time of writing.
However, Spell told Reuters: "Satan and a virus will not stop us."
He added: "God will shield us from all harm and sickness. We are not afraid. We are called by God to stand against the Antichrist creeping into America's borders. We will spread the Gospel."
The service was live streamed on social media, but only the first couple of rows of worshippers were ever shown on camera, so it is difficult to verify the veracity of Spell's claimed attendance.
I'm at Maryville Baptist Church, which continues to hold in-person services despite orders to cease . This morning, piles of nails have been scattered at every entrance. pic.twitter.com/WcxkqtVZQw
- Sarah Ladd (@ladd_sarah) April 12, 2020
In footage from the service, he said: "I don't want anybody to be nervous. If you don't want to touch anyone, you don't have to touch anyone.
"I promise that before I lay hands on you or touch you that I will disinfect my hands so that you don't have to worry about me transmitting anything to you."
Spell was previously arrested on 31 March and charged with six misdemeanours for violating an executive order by Governor John Bel Edwards, banning gatherings of more than 50 people.
Spell told TMZ: "Like any zealot or like any pure religious person, death looks to them like a welcome friend. True Christians do not mind dying. They fear living in fear."
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