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Church helps Myanmar's poorest as pandemic spikes

Suu Kyi urges the elderly and sick to be on alert as Covid-19 spreads in densely populated areas

Church helps Myanmar's poorest as pandemic spikes

Priests and villagers in front of a church after distributing rice bags and oil to people in Pathein Diocese on Nov. 18. (Photo: Pathein Diocese's social communication office)   

While churches have been closed due to Covid-19 in Myanmar, Bishop John Hsane Hgyi of Pathein moved online to celebrate Mass and give Bible reflections each day.

Regular moral and spiritual support to Catholics through an online program prompted generous well-wishers to provide funds for assisting communities badly affected by the pandemic.

Thanks to support from benefactors in Myanmar and abroad including Canada, the US and Malaysia, nearly 1.8 million kyats (US$14,000) was received in donations.

Under the leadership of Bishop Hsane Hgyi, a church-led team provided rice bags and oil to 200 households in four villages in Pathein Diocese regardless of race and religion.

In July, Bishop Hsane Hgyi, who leads the diocese’s Covid-19 response team, joined church social workers to give moral and nutritional support to people quarantined in a government-run facility in Pathein.

In the wake of surging cases in Myanmar, Catholic officials have stepped up fundraising from abroad and within the country to help the nation’s battle against the second wave.

The national coordination team led by Cardinal Charles Bo has upscaled its response and provided food to the most affected, starting with 1,000 families for three months and motivating Christians to feed at least 50 poor families in each parish.

The Southeast Asian country, which has one of the world’s weakest health systems, had relatively few cases with only seven deaths in four months, but infections have risen dramatically since mid-August.

Yangon, its most populous city, has the highest number of cases followed by Mandalay, Bago and Ayeyarwaddy regions.

Myanmar reported 1,639 new coronavirus cases on Nov. 26, taking its total to 85,205 with 1,846 deaths and 64,645 recoveries. It has the third-highest number of cases in the ASEAN region behind the Philippines and Indonesia.

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Limited numbers for Christmas, New Year

The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar (CBCM) has issued healthcare guidelines about Masses at Christmas and New Year in compliance with measures imposed by the government.

Parishes are urged to hold Masses with no more than 50 people and follow social distancing, wearing face masks and screening temperatures before entering churches. Carol singing has been banned by the government.

Health officials have banned gatherings of more than 30 people and urged people to stay home as the cold season approaches.

State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi has warned of rising Covid-19 cases in the country in the post-election era. She said the rate of infection spread was increasing in cities such as Yangon and Mandalay with high population densities.

“I would like to request people who live in cold climates, especially elderly persons and those with underlying diseases, to be vigilant,” Suu Kyi said in a televised speech on Nov. 22.

Cases have risen since large crowds ignored restrictions and held victory celebrations for Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party after its landslide victory in the general election on Nov. 8.

The government has imposed stay-at-home orders in Bago, Ayeyarwaddy and Mandalay regions and Kachin and Mon states. Yangon and Rakhine state were already under stay-at-home orders.

The Central Committee for Prevention, Control and Treatment of Covid-19 has extended prevention measures until the end of November, including the suspension of international and domestic flights.

Churches across the country remain closed and people join Sunday Mass, adoration, Bible reflections and novena prayers via online platforms.

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