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Diocese suspends ‘sign of peace’ due to flu outbreak

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A diocese in Northern Ireland has asked Catholics not to exchange the sign of peace during Mass due to a surge in flu cases.

The Diocese of Down and Connor has also told priests to disinfect their hands before distributing Holy Communion, and warned against distributing the Precious Blood as part of Communion as it is done from a shared chalice.

Fr Martin Magill, of the St John’s parish in Belfast, told the BBC parishioners would understand the move.

“I think all of us are aware of the huge amount of pressure that our hospitals are under at this stage and so this idea of doing something that will make a difference,” he said.

“It’s precautionary more than anything else.”

Various dioceses around the world suspended the sign of peace during the H1N1 flu epidemic in 2009.

In the diocese of Stockton in California, the bishop said that “just nodding and smiling” was enough. Other churches told parishioners not to hold hands during the Our Father.