A resident undergoes a Covid-19 test on Jan. 12 as part of a mass testing program following new cases of the virus emerging in Shijiazhuang in northern China's Hebei province. (Photo: STR/AFP)
The official state-sanctioned Catholic Church in China has asked Catholics to join their "thoughts and actions with the spirit" of Chinese President Xi Jinping's call to prevent and control the resurfacing Covid-19 pandemic.
The Bishops' Conference of the Catholic Church in China and the Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association jointly issued a notice to all Catholic institutions and dioceses on Jan. 8 asking them to take precautions as people began to travel for the Lunar New Year festival, which falls on Feb. 12 this year.
During the festival season, some 3 million people travel across the country to be with their families in what the media calls the largest annual human migration.
The travel rush is expected to be less this year after authorities issued Covid-19 restrictions and urged people to avoid travel as the virus continues to trouble the country.
The notice said the pandemic had recently spread to several places in Hebei province and some people had spread rumors on social media linking the Catholic Church with the spread of the infection.
However, the Catholic Patriotic Association of Shijiazhuang city and the Diocese of Shijiazhuang promptly clarified and dismissed the rumors.
At a Jan. 9 press conference, Li Zhanling, director of the government Bureau of Ethnic and Religious Affairs of Shijiazhuang city, said there was no evidence that the epidemic source was directly related to religious gatherings.
The notice reiterated that "although there is no Covid-19 cluster in the Catholic area, we still need to be vigilant and strengthen prevention and control, especially as the spring festival is approaching."
Traditionally, Catholics gather for Masses and special prayers in churches seeking blessings for the new year.
Catholics should "fully understand the current severe situation" and "unify thoughts and actions with the spirit of General Secretary Xi Jinping's series of important speeches on the prevention and control of the new epidemic," the notice said.
The Communist Party's Central Committee and the State Council have made arrangements to follow "strictness and tightness" in checking the pandemic spread "and will not slack in the prevention and control" of the infection.
As travel has increased in the spring festival season, church activities have been relatively concentrated and the pressure on epidemic prevention and control has increased.
"It is necessary to minimize the movement and gathering of people, strictly control the number of religious activities such as the New Year's Thanksgiving Mass, and formulate various emergency plans to ensure safety and order," the notice said.
It called on priests and church members to guide everyone "to exert the patriotic spirit of the Catholic community to actively fight the epidemic" and abide by various prevention and control measures.
The notice also asked priests and church members to pray for the early elimination of the pandemic.
Several provinces and major cities, including Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen, have issued notices asking people to avoid unnecessary travel during the festival travel season of 40 days until the first week March.
In southern China, a similar notice was issued by the official church of Guangdong province on Jan. 10, urging dioceses and parishes to take strict prevention measures for religious meetings and activities.