Updated: 18.08, 8 February 2020
CHINA (SE): Some churches in China have suspended community activities, including Mass, as the deadly Wuhan coronavirus (2019-nCoV) continues to spread UCAN reported. As of February 8, the SCMP reported that there have been over 34,889 reported cases—34,546 on mainland China—and 724 deaths, including one in the Philippines and one in Hong Kong as of February 8.
On the bright side, over 2,152 patients are reported to have recovered according to data collected by the SCMP.
Outside of China, at least 28 countries and regions, including Japan, Thailand, Taiwan, France, the United States and South Korea, as well as the cities of Macau and Hong Kong have also confirmed cases of the virus. At least two cruise ships have also been quarantined, one at Kai Tak Cruise Terminal in Hong Kong, and the other at Yokohama, Japan.
“The situation is serious and beyond the ability of ordinary people to check it,” said a Christian physician who is a member of a team working to check the spread of the virus in Hubei, UCAN reported.
The National Health and Health Commission reported 2,345 new cases of infection in Hubei province as of midnight February 3, with the total reaching 13,522.
In an effort to control the outbreak, the industrial city of 11 million people has been put on lockdown.
With Chinese New Year celebrated on January 25 this year, this is the busiest travel season when millions of workers head back to their villages for celebrations.
The Diocese of Hankou in Hubei, announced the suspension of community activities in all its parishes as the province is on high alert to check the virus. Restoration programmes will be notified separately, it said in a notice.
St. Ignatius Cathedral in the Diocese of Shanghai in Xujiahui, said on January 22 that it will be temporarily closed and there would be no prayer services or Masses during Chinese New Year.
Holy Family Catholic Church in Wuchang, which is just across the Yangtze River from Wuhan, issued a notice suspending all Masses temporarily following a government directive.
The Diocese of Ningbo in Zhejiang province, asked parish priests not to distribute communion on the tongues from January 22 as a preventive measure. “The Church members shall receive the Eucharist in their hands,” it said in a notice seeking parishioners’ prayers for an end to the epidemic.
A priest from Hubei, who asked not to be named, said that although the situation is “very serious,” churches should not stop Masses. “In the current situation, shouldn’t we pray more?” he asked.
A Catholic layperson in Hebei, identified only as Paul, said he was “worried that the authorities would use this to crack down on the Church.”
He said, “If it spreads quickly and uncontrollably, Church meetings and gatherings may be banned. Authorities may also use this a pretext to crack down on the Church more severely.”
The zoonotic virus, which can move from animals to humans, can spread among human communities through contact. The infection manifests itself with symptoms of simple fever but can turn soon into deadly pneumonia.
Since antibiotics only work on bacterial infections but not viruses, people with low immunity, such as children and the elderly, are most vulnerable, a doctor in Hebei explained.
“The rate of infection with the new coronavirus pneumonia has exceeded the speed of SARS transmission in 2003,” he said.
Virus detection covered up
Several medical professionals in Hubei said that the administration concealed the detection of the virus from people in the initial days, which made preventive measures impossible, UCAN reported.
“Today, the rate of infection is increasing day by day. More and more people get infected even in non-Wuhan areas. People are now scared of those near them,” a doctor said.
He said medical staff taking care of patients unaware of the virus were infected. “Some are now in a critical condition. One of the doctors died of the infection.”
A member of a medical team fighting the virus said: “if Wuhan city had not concealed the detection of the virus initially, such a large-scale infection could have been avoided. The medical staff also would not have become victims. The cover-up was extremely disrespectful to the medical staff and an extreme disgrace to life.”
Wuhan announced the detention of the virus on 12 December 2019, but the first infection is now believed to have happened between 20 November 2019 and 1 December 2019, she said.
“When the official announcement happened, at least 15 medical staff had already been diagnosed with coronavirus pneumonia,” she said.
The Propaganda Department of the Shaanxi Provincial Committee of the Communist Party of China issued a statement on January 20 asking people not to go in and out of Wuhan in an effort to stop the spread of the disease.
Wang Baolu, who lives in Hubei, said not many people are out in the open and in markets. “Just go home and do not stay out for another minute” seems to be the policy for everyone, he said.
He said the situation is more frightening than the SARS infection in 2003, and he could not believe the government anymore.
“People are speculating a lot” on social media. However, “we do not know what is true and what is false. But no matter what, I no longer believe what the government is saying. They hide the truth every time, causing more deaths and spreading the virus quickly,” he said.
In Hong Kong, the Catholic Diocese issued extensive pastoral guidelines covering hygiene, the celebration of the Mass, visitations, hearing of confession and other matters (see page 3).
Among other things, the wearing of surgical masks in church is called for and, as a temporary measure, holy water is not being provided at church entrances. People are also to receive communion in the hand and are encouraged to cleanse appropriately beforehand.
Priests and penitents are also asked to use surgical masks during the sacrament of Reconciliation.
RTHK reported that the Hong Kong government—which has come under criticism for its slow response—has also taken measures to mitigate the spread of the Wuhan coronavirus in the territory including a partial border closure and the suspension of cross-border ferry services.
Four local airlines, including Cathay Pacific Airways, Hong Kong Airlines, Cathay Dragon and Hong Kong Express, reduced flights between Hong Kong and 24 mainland destinations from about 480 flights weekly to about 240 flights until further notice.
As of February 4, only 15 cases had been reported in Hong Kong with one fatality.