People who live near or have visited Beijing's Xinfadi market queue for coronavirus tests on June 16. (Photo: Noel Celis/AFP)
Authorities have ordered the closure of all churches in Beijing as the Chinese capital struggles to contain a fresh outbreak of the novel coronavirus.
The pandemic has so far been contained in the city of 21 million people after the virus first appeared last December in central China's Wuhan city and spread across the world.
Official reports said 36 new cases were added on June 15, while 106 cases have been confirmed in the city since June 11. Most new cases are linked to Xinfadi wholesale food market, prompting a huge trace-and-test programme. Tens of thousands of Beijing residents have been tested.
Bishop Joseph Li Shan of Beijing, together with state-established Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association, had announced the opening of churches on June 10 but issued another notice on June 12 asking for the closure of all churches as the virus situation worsened.
From June 13 onwards, "all parishes and Mass sites in the city will continue to be closed, and all worship programs and religious activities stand suspended," the circular said.
It also said the resumption of classes at Beijing Catholic Theological Seminary is likewise postponed until further notice.
Civil officials in Tianjin, a city neighboring Beijing, issued an emergency notice on June 13 closing down religious places and suspending religious activities.
Tianjin diocese originally planned to resume religious activities on June 15.
Paul Lee, a Beijing parishioner, told UCA News that he was expecting to attend Mass after more than two months. He felt disappointed about the fresh outbreak that compelled the closure of churches.
Philip, another parishioner, said people are prepared to face the pandemic. They are buying more masks and hand sanitizer and keeping social distancing.
Philip was upset that Beijing authorities did not allow churches to function when it practically had no cases of infections in March and April. Places of worship continued to be shut in May when tourist attractions were open to the public.
"We were allowed to open churches in June. Now the epidemic is back and churches are closed again. When will we have our worship as a community?" he asked.
Philip suspects the communist regime deliberately keeps churches shut.
Peter from Tianjin said "there are cases of Covid-19 in Beijing, so why should places of worship in Tianjin have to close again?"