The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar (CBCM) has postponed an annual Marian celebration due to fears over the fast-spreading coronavirus.
The CBCM issued a statement, signed by general-secretary Bishop John Saw Yaw Han, on Feb. 6 that said “the annual celebration of Our Lady of Lourdes in Nyaunglebin, Bago division, has been postponed with the decision of the bishops and the committee for the celebration. We will announce the dates of the Marian celebration later and urge pilgrims to understand the inconvenience.”
The feast has been held in Nyaunglebin in Yangon Archdiocese since 1902 and the Church has designated it a national pilgrimage center.
The 118th anniversary of Our Lady of Lourdes was initially slated to be held from Feb. 7-16 with a novena, adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and procession around town. Thousands of Catholics and non-Catholics from across the country were expected to attend.
“Preparations have already been made for the celebration but we need to follow the decision of the bishops amid the coronavirus outbreak in neighboring China,” Father Savio Jude, parish priest of the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Nyaunglebin, told UCA News.
The priest said some groups from Kachin state were already on their way and would proceed to the pilgrimage site despite the official celebration being postponed.
“I will say Mass for the pilgrims who come from far away and will also provide them with food,” said Father Jude, adding that the revised date for the celebration would depend on the virus situation.
Bishop Alexander Pyone Cho of Pyay, chairman of the Episcopal Commission for Health Pastoral Care, said it was the right decision to postpone the celebration in order to avoid spreading the contagion.
“Health officials also suggested not holding big gatherings and events, so it is better to hold the celebration only when the world can control the virus spreading,” Bishop Pyone Cho told UCA News.
The bishop said Catholic doctors from the health commission are sharing information about prevention and awareness on social media.
Myanmar has so far not reported any case of the deadly virus but 10 people suspected of having the coronavirus are being quarantined at hospitals in the country.
According to a Ministry of Sports and Health announcement on Feb. 5, four of the 10 patients have been reported clear of the coronavirus. The ministry said it will announce the results of the remaining six patients soon.
Some 53 students who were evacuated from Wuhan last Sunday and are now quarantined at a hospital in Mandalay are in good condition, according to health officials.
Myanmar has no laboratory to test for the deadly virus and is sending samples from suspected patients to Thailand.
The country has been on high alert and has beefed up surveillance measures at airports, seaports and land border crossings in an effort to prevent the entry of the virus.
The coronavirus outbreak has been categorized as a global health emergency by the World Health Organization, with cases confirmed in 25 countries and regions. A total of 31,472 cases and 638 deaths have been confirmed. The only deaths outside mainland China have been in Hong Kong and the Philippines.