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Hong Kong diocese cancels public services, including for Ash Wednesday, amid coronavirus scare

VIRUS
VIVEK PRAKASH | AFP
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Drastic measure to be implemented for two weeks as outbreak continues to claim lives in China

Ash Wednesday services, as well as all public Masses for the next two weeks, have been cancelled in Hong Kong in the face of the coronavirus.

The threat of COVID-19 — the novel coronavirus which has claimed over 1,100 lives in mainland China — has forced Catholic leaders in Hong Kong to suspend church activities for the next two weeks, UCANews reported.

Cardinal John Tong, apostolic administrator of Hong Kong, said the next two weeks will be a “crucial time to suppress the epidemic.” He urged everyone “not to panic” and to “deepen our trust in God and implement our Christian love for our neighbors and all people.”

As Hong Kong began to get cases of COVID-19, the diocese began advising priests and parishioners how best to protect themselves — by wearing surgical masks, receiving Communion on the hand and not directly into the mouth, and keeping a safe distance from others in church. It also said that those who are afraid of contracting the virus or have even a slight cold would be dispensed from the Sunday obligation to attend Mass. The diocese began live-streaming a Mass over the internet.

“In addition to fulfilling our Mass obligation by participating in the Mass online, receiving Holy Communion spiritually, meditating on the Scriptures, or saying the Rosary, at home we can care more for the health of our family, especially the elderly and the children,” Cardinal Tong said in the new statement.

As the global fear of the disease grows, the diocese decided to suspend all public Masses on Sundays and weekdays from Feb. 15-28 and to cancel the liturgy of Ash Wednesday, which is on February 26, Cardinal Tong said in a Feb. 13 pastoral letter.

Hong Kong, which has open borders with China, has reported about 50 confirmed cases and one death.

Tong, in the statement, asked Hong Kong’s 500,000 Catholics to “help one another, share anti-epidemic materials, live the Gospel virtues of faith, hope and love, and pray for each other.

“Through the intercession of Our Blessed Mother Mary, may the Lord listen to our prayers that the epidemic will soon disappear, and grant us good health and well-being,” he concluded.

UCANews reported that the densely populated territory 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.” It continued:

As part of the all-out efforts to arrest the outbreak, Hong Kong has set up a slew of mass quarantine camps to isolate victims.

The government, headed by Carrie Lam, has already invited criticism from residents for setting up quarantine camps in residential areas.

The new mandatory quarantine rules came into effect on Feb. 8, with persons arriving from the mainland required to be quarantined for 14 days to curb outbreaks in the community.

“We will provide as much as possible facilitation to ensure that people comply with the quarantine order and stay at home,” Lam said.

So far, around 2,200 people have been placed in quarantine camps in Hong Kong.

There have been protests against the government’s decision to use a heritage lodge at the Jao Tsung-I Academy as a quarantine camp. Prices of essential goods have skyrocketed and there has been a run on medical masks, the news service reported, saying residents have raided supermarkets and pharmacies. One resident complained that “unscrupulous merchants even increased masks by nearly 50 times.”

Schools in Hong Kong will extend closures until March 16 , and the government has given its civil servants the option of working from home until Feb. 23.

 

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