Religious gatherings must be put on hold amid the virus crisis

February 27, 2020 13:12
Workers from a disinfection service company sanitize a street in front of a branch of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in South Korea’s Daegu city following multiple cases of coronavirus infection among the church-goers. Photo: Yonhap via Reuters

The Covid-19 outbreak, which was first identified in Wuhan, China late last year, is now spreading across the globe and showing no signs of relenting.

Nevertheless, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization (WHO), said earlier this week that using the term "pandemic" doesn't fit the facts yet.

"We must focus on containment while preparing for a potential pandemic,” he stressed.

No matter whether the novel coronavirus incidents meet the standard of a “global pandemic”, the reality is that countries around the world have been falling victim one by one, with the situation especially worrisome in Japan, South Korea, Italy and Iran.

Infections linked to Iran have been confirmed in Bahrain, Iraq, Kuwait and Oman, while cases tied to Italy have been found in Algeria, Austria, Croatia, Germany, Spain and Switzerland, Reuters news agency has reported.

One point to note in relation to the recent confirmed Covid-19 spread is that quite a number of infections have originated from locations where people gather for religious activities.

In South Korea, where the coronavirus cases have topped a thousand on Wednesday, a 61-year-old woman who happens to be a member of the Shincheonji Church of Jesus in the city of Daegu is believed to have been a “super spreader”, passing on the infection to many of her fellow church-goers.

Meanwhile in Hong Kong, Dr. Chuang Shuk-kwan, head of the Communicable Disease Branch of the Centre for Health Protection (CHP), said on Tuesday that seven confirmed cases had been linked to a Buddhist temple in North Point.

On Wednesday, Chuang said in a press conference that a further three cases have been linked to the same North Point temple.

Given the situation, we believe all religious facilities should reduce foot traffic and relevant activities as far as possible in order to minimize the risk of further community outbreaks.

Earlier, the Catholic Diocese of Hong Kong had announced the temporary suspension of all public masses and other related religious events between Feb. 15 and Feb. 28.

Then on Tuesday this week, after having consulted medical professionals, Cardinal John Tong Hon, Apostolic Administrator-Bishop Emeritus of Hong Kong, decided that the suspension of public masses and other communal religious activities will be extended, with the exception of weddings and funerals, until further notice.

We hope the Catholic Diocese's actions will prompt other religious groups in Hong Kong to follow suit and suspend their own public activities.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Feb 26

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Hong Kong Economic Journal