Some churches in China have suspended community activities, including Mass, over fears of the deadly coronavirus that has already killed six people and continues to spread.China’s National Health and Health Commission has confirmed over 500 cases of pneumonia with new coronavirus infection in areas of Hubei, Beijing, Guangdong and Shanghai. More suspected cases were reported from another 14 provinces, it said.
Media reports say Asian nations such as Japan, Thailand and South Korea have also confirmed cases of the virus, which has no medical cure and can become deadly in people with low immunity.
“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.
Wuhan, the capital of Hubei province, where the viral infection was first reported, remains the worst-hit area with six deaths, including 51 severe cases and 12 critical cases.The industrial city of 11 million people has temporarily shut all public transport systems and people have been advised not to leave the city in an effort to control the outbreak.With Chinese New Year celebrated on Jan. 25 this year, this is the busiest travel season when millions of workers head back to their villages for celebrations.
Hankou Diocese in Hubei province has announced the suspension of community activities in all its parishes as the province is on high alert to check the virus. Restoration programs will be notified separately, it said in a notice.St. Ignatius Cathedral of Shanghai Diocese in Xujiahui on Jan. 22 said it will be temporarily closed and no prayer services or Masses will be conducted during Chinese New Year.
Holy Family Catholic Church in Wuchang, which is just across the Yangtze River from Wuhan, has issued a notice suspending all Masses temporarily following a government directive. Ningbo Diocese in Zhejiang province has asked parish priests not to distribute communion on tongues from Jan. 22 as a preventive measure.
“The church members shall receive the Eucharist in their hands,” it said in a notice seeking parishioners’ prayers to end the epidemic.A Hubei priest, who asked not to be named, told UCA News 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 layman in Hebei, identified only as Paul, said he was “worried that the authorities would use this to crack down on the Church.””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,” he said.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 the virus does not respond to antibiotics, people with low immunity, such as children and the elderly, are most vulnerable, a doctor in Hebei told UCA News.
“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 told UCA News that the administration concealed the detection of the virus from people in the initial days, which made preventive measures impossible. “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 woman in 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 Dec. 12, but the first infection is now believed to have happened between Nov. 20 and Dec. 1, the woman 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 Jan. 20 asking people not to go in and out of Wuhan in an effort to stop the spread of the disease.
Wuhan Wang Baolu, who lives in Hubei, told UCA News that although Chinese New Year is round the corner, 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.
The situation is more frightening than the SARS infection in 2003, he said, and he cannot 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.