No Handshakes: Coronavirus Outbreak Spooks Asian Places Of Worship

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MANILA – In a popular Catholic church in the Philippines, nearly half of the pews were empty for Sunday Mass. The few hundred worshippers who showed up were asked to refrain from shaking oth­ers’ hands or holding them during prayers to prevent the spread of the virus that started in China.

In Hong Kong, Cardinal John Hon Tong, wearing a mask, an­nounced the suspension of public Masses for two weeks and urged churchgoers to instead watch them online.

Buddhist temples, Christian churches and Muslim mosques have been ordered closed since Jan. 29 in mainland China, where the new coronavirus strain was first detected in the central city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. Mosques have canceled weekly Friday prayers since Janu­ary under an order to avoid “col­lective religious activities.“

Religious leaders should en­courage Muslims to “trust the party“ and avoid crowds, the Com­munist Party-controlled body that oversees China’s officially autho­rized mosques said in a statement.

Coronavirus Philippines reli­gious events, Philippines Corona­virus scare, Coronavirus China religious group, indian express news In this Feb. 10, 2020, photo, a Catholic woman wearing a face mask prays during a mass at the Minor Basilica of San Lorenzo Ruiz in Manila’s Chinatown, Phil­ippines. In a popular Catholic church in Manila, nearly half of the pews were empty for Sunday Mass. The few hundred worship­pers who showed up, some in pro­tective masks, have been asked to refrain from shaking or holding hands in prayers.

The restrictions and dwin­dling crowds in religiously diverse places of worship underscore the extent of the scare over the out­break that has permeated many aspects of life in the hard-hit Asian region. The virus has killed more than 1,500 people and infected more than 67,000 others, mostly in China, where several cities that are home to more than 60 million people have been placed under lockdown in an unprecedented ef­fort to contain the disease.

All but three of the deaths have been in China. Japan, Hong Kong and the Philippines have re­ported one fatality each.

In Japan, where Buddhist tem­ples and Shinto shrines are tour­ist destinations, a sharp decline in the number of foreign visitors has been a palpable setback. At normally popular Suzumushi, or Crickets, temple, a sign read, “Due to the impact of the COVID-19, no waiting expected,” using the name given to the disease by the World Health Organization.

Coronavirus Philippines reli­gious events, Philippines Corona­virus scare, Coronavirus China religious group, indian express news In this Feb. 10, 2020, photo, half-empty pews are seen during a mass at the Minor Basilica of San Lorenzo Ruiz in Manila’s China­town, Philippines. In a popular Catholic church in Manila, nearly half of the pews were empty for Sunday Mass. (AP)

“We assimilate with parish­ioners and many other people. We know that the talk of the town is really this virus and it’s obvious that many are scared,” said the Rev. Siegfred Arellano, a priest at the Binondo church in the Philip­pine capital’s Chinatown.

Attendance at Masses, Arel­lano said, “has really dropped.”

After consulting health ex­perts, the Catholic Bishops Confer­ence of the Philippines announced steps late last month to fight the vi­rus. Churchgoers were advised to avoid hand contact and receive the Eucharist, which symbolizes the body of Jesus Christ, in the hand instead of the mouth.

 


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Agencies

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