The growing threat of the coronavirus has forced Catholic officials in Hong Kong to suspend all church activities from February 15 to 28, including Sunday and Ash Wednesday Masses.
Ucanews.com reported that Cardinal John Tong, apostolic administrator of Hong Kong, said the “disappointing” decision had been made “because the next two weeks will be a crucial time to suppress the epidemic.”
“Some church members may be disappointed” with the diocesan move, the cardinal said. “This is not an easy decision.”
The move comes amid global fears that the epidemic, now called COVID-19, has worsened in China against the prediction of experts. The epidemic, first reported in Wuhan city of Hubei province, has spread across the world and claimed more than 1,300 lives, with more than 60,000 confirmed cases, mostly in China.
Hong Kong, which has open borders with China, has reported 50 confirmed cases and one death. The densely populated Hong Kong city-state of 7.4 million people is on high alert to check the virus, as thousands have crossed over from mainland China to avoid the infection, ucanews.com reported.
“At this difficult time,” Catholics must “deepen our trust in God and implement our Christian love for our neighbours and all people,” the cardinal’s message said.
Cardinal Tong said he wanted Catholics to fulfil their Mass obligation by watching Mass online, making an act of spiritual Communion and meditating on the Scriptures or saying the rosary at home.
He also urged Catholics to help each other; share anti-epidemic materials; live the Gospel virtues of faith, hope and love; and pray for each other.
As part of efforts to arrest the outbreak, Hong Kong has set up a slew of quarantine camps to isolate victims. So far, around 2,200 people have been placed in quarantine camps in Hong Kong, and some people have criticised the government for setting up the camps in residential areas.
The new mandatory quarantine rules took effect on February 8, with people arriving from the mainland required to be quarantined for 14 days to curb outbreaks in the community. People leaving the camps without permission commit a criminal offense punishable with a six-month jail term and a fine of $25,000 (US$3,220), the government has said.
With the prices of essential goods soaring and unavailability of medical masks, residents have raided supermarkets and pharmacies, braving chilly winds.
Schools in Hong Kong will extend closures until March 16, Kevin Yeung, Hong Kong’s education secretary, said.
The government has given its 176,000 civil servants the option of working from home until February 23 to reduce the risk of the virus spreading.