A staff member disinfects Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan in China's Hubei province on Jan. 22. The Chinese city at the center of the coronavirus outbreak has urged people to stay away. (Photo: AFP)
A Catholic bishop in the Philippines has encouraged the faithful in his diocese to take communion by hand instead of by mouth to avoid the possible spread of the dreaded coronavirus.
Bishop Ruperto Santos of Balanga, north of capital Manila, said his suggestion is a "precautionary measure" against the deadly disease.
"We have to be vigilant," said the bishop, adding that the virus can spread from an infected person to another through close personal contact such as touching.
"It is prudent to minimize contacts to prevent the spread of infection not only of coronavirus but also other viruses."
He also suggested the faithful not hold hands when reciting the Lord's Prayer during Mass as practiced in many places in the Philippines.
Bishop Santos also asked them to forego the kissing of the bishop's ring until the reported spread of the virus is controlled.
He earlier issued a prayer in his diocese against the spread of the coronavirus.
The Episcopal Commission on Health Care of the Philippine bishops' conference last week called on the faithful to exercise prudence as the virus continues to spread outside China.
"If one thinks he needs to see a doctor because of some suspicion, please let us be prudent enough to do it so that we can arrest the sickness right away," said Bishop Oscar Florencio of the health commission.
Philippine health officials reported on Jan. 29 that they are monitoring 23 suspected cases of coronavirus but four others have already tested negative.
Most of those being monitored had travel history to Wuhan, China, and are mostly foreigners.
Health Secretary Francisco Duque III said in a press briefing that the four people had been discharged from hospital after they were cleared of the fast-spreading disease.
The Philippines is still free from the virus that has claimed at least 132 lives and infected 5,974 people in China.
Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, according to the World Health Organization.