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Fearing Covid-19 relapse, China keeps religious places shut

Catholics suspect that even if authorities open churches, people will stay away until pandemic fears are over

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Updated: April 02, 2020 04:51 AM GMT
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Fearing Covid-19 relapse, China keeps religious places shut

Workers wearing protective equipment carry on work next to Huanan seafood market in Wuhan in China's Hubei province on March 30 after travel restrictions into the city were eased following more than two months of lockdown due to Covid-19. (Photo: AFP) 

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China has lifted curbs on Hubei province, the epicenter of the Covid-19 breakout, but restrictions on religious places continue, casting doubt on when churches can start functioning normally.

Although authorities eased curbs on Hubei on March 25, capital Wuhan, where the new coronavirus emerged, will have to wait until April 8 to lift restrictions. Wuhan, a city of 11 million people, has recorded 60 percent of about 81,500 Covid-19 cases in China.

Even as restrictions were relaxed, the country continued to report new infections. On March 31, China's National Health Commission reported 36 new cases. It said 35 were "imported," meaning they involved people arriving from elsewhere.

Officially, China has reported 81,554 confirmed cases and 3,312 deaths. Of these, 3,193 deaths were from Hubei province.

The communist government has not permitted churches to open for regular liturgical programs on grounds that the concentration of people could cause a relapse of Covid-19, said Father Zhang, who lives in Hubei.

"Churches have not opened their doors. Local government authorities are not permitting it. In the case of an outbreak, they are afraid of being held accountable," the priest said.

He said a parish near him that held Masses on the last two Sundays was reported by villagers. "Authorities came and put a notice on the church door prohibiting services," he said.

"I'm not sure if they are worried about the coronavirus or trying to suppress the Church," Father Zhang said.

With no official information on when churches can function regularly, Catholics are unsure if they can celebrate the Passion Week that begins on April 4 and leads to Easter on April 12, Catholic leaders said.

Paul Zhao, a Catholic of Wuhan Diocese, said that "a small area is now open" but only those with a government-issued health certificate can access it.

Zhao said the government did not let his local church open and may be afraid that the pandemic will return.

"After all, this epidemic was so serious that all are afraid. Even now, if the churches are open, not many will dare to go. It will take some time for churches to have normal attendances … maybe a year. No one want to invite trouble … the past days have been dreadful," he said.

Juan Liu, another member of Wuhan Diocese, is worried that if church closures and fear of gathering in churches continue, "everyone's faith is going to slide."

Maria Wei of Jingzhou Diocese in Hubei province said that although restrictions on her area have been lifted, "the situation is still not optimistic. It is said that asymptomatic infections can also be transmitted, so we are all worried." 

"It's good that the church is not open because we don't even know how many asymptomatic infected people will be there. We have to avoid this horrible infection," she said.

Catholics also noted that not only churches but also all places of gatherings are closed for fear of a return of Covid-19.

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