Coronavirus forces religious restrictions in Singapore

Christian and Muslim leaders have exempted people with symptoms of infection from attending prayer gatherings
Coronavirus forces religious restrictions in Singapore

A volunteer from Singapore's ministry of communications prepares to collect feedback from members of the public on the current novel coronavirus outbreak situation in the city state on Feb. 5. (Photo: AFP)

Religious leaders in Singapore have put restrictions on rituals and celebrations after the tiny city state reported 30 confirmed cases of coronavirus infection, making it the third most affected country after China and Japan.

The Archdiocese of Singapore has exempted people with virus symptoms from the obligation of attending Mass or other community activities.

In a detailed instruction, the archdiocese asked Catholics to receive Communion only on hands rather than on the tongue. It also asked parishes not to keep holy water containers at the entrance of churches lest people use them.

It also advised that catechists and students should have their temperature tested before classes. The symptoms of the infection are similar to those of the common cold.

Bishop Chong Chin Chung of the Methodist Church has suggested an alternative to the handshake. He said congregants might greet each other with their palms placed together, with a slight bow of the head.

The Office of the Mufti in Singapore has exempted Muslims in quarantine or unwell from attending Friday prayers. Its message also urged Muslims to wash hands with soap and cover the mouth and nose when coughing and sneezing.

The Singapore Buddhist Federation canceled its annual Chinese New Year gathering on Jan. 31.

The government has started making arrangements for a second flight to bring back Singaporeans from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak in China, the foreign affairs ministry said on Feb. 7.

The epidemic has claimed 636 lives in mainland China, the National Health Commission of China said on Feb. 7. Some 31,000 are reportedly infected in China, where the infection was first reported in December.

Singapore has imposed travel restrictions to stop all new visitors of any nationality with recent travel history to mainland China from entering Singapore.

“The traffic between China and Singapore has come down significantly because flights have shrunk 70 to 80 percent, while traffic volume has come down by 60 to 70 percent,” transport minister Khaw Boon Wan said on Feb. 6.

Amid reports of shops running out of stock, the government announced that all 1.3 million households in Singapore would each be given a pack of four face masks, The Straits Times reported.

Schools have been asked to suspend assemblies and excursions. Several firms in Singapore have suspended business and media events, including a big travel fair.

Singapore was one of the worst-hit countries outside China in the 2003 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS).

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