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Philippine churches ratchet up anti-coronavirus measures

Authorities in Manila announce first virus-related death outside China

Joe Torres, Manila

Joe Torres, Manila

Published: February 03, 2020 05:11 AM GMT
Philippine churches ratchet up anti-coronavirus measures

Tourists wear face masks while walking around Manila. Authorities announced that a tourist died due to coronavirus in the Philippine capital — the first death outside China. (Photo: Joe Torres/UCA News) 

The wiping and kissing of religious images are not allowed, the holding of hands when praying the Lord's Prayer is discouraged, and the faithful are being told to receive Communion by hand.

These are just some of the measures being implemented by the Philippine Church in the wake of reports that the first coronavirus death outside China occurred in Manila.

Authorities in Manila confirmed that a 44-year-old man died after contracting the virus from his friend while they were traveling together in Wuhan, China.

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His friend, a 38-year-old woman, was the first person confirmed as having the virus in the Philippines.

The man, who is from Wuhan, arrived in the Philippines with the woman through Hong Kong on Jan. 21. He died on Feb. 1.

A week before the man's death, he was admitted to hospital with pneumonia after experiencing fever, coughing and a sore throat. The woman remains in isolation in a Manila hospital, officials said.

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines earlier issued directives to prevent the spread of the virus.

In San Jose Diocese in Nueva Ecija province, north of the capital, priests were encouraged to wear face masks while hearing confessions.

In a circular letter for his diocese, Bishop Roberto Mallari noted that the diocese was holding “First Communion” rites for schoolchildren. He also urged parishes to regularly change holy water in fonts and follow the advice of medical experts.

In Borongan Diocese in the central Philippines, Father Neil Tenefrancia, its chancellor, called for “greater restraint and prudence in the kissing of statues or images or in wiping handkerchiefs on them."

"Let us pray for the healing of all our brothers and sisters who are suffering and are affected by the disease," said the priest.

"May the Virgin Mary, patroness of the diocese, assist and accompany us in this moment of uncertainty, and may her powerful protection spare us from infection from this virus," he added.

Father Dan Cancino, executive secretary of the Episcopal Commission on Health of the bishops' conference, urged parishes to be more careful. He said parishes should also regularly change the curtains in confessional boxes.

Meanwhile, a labor group in Manila denounced a memorandum issued by Adamson University, a church-run institution, urging Chinese students to undergo self-quarantine for 14 days.

"Chinese nationals are also advised to postpone all transactions inside the university until February 14, 2020," read the school memorandum.

The Trade Union Congress of the Philippines, however, said that “in the face of the worldwide scourge ... it is time for solidarity — to stand together — not discriminate, not stigmatize."

In its statement, the union demanded that the university retract the statement for being "plain and simple racism and discrimination."

"This action is highly inappropriate in our civilizing and maturing Filipino educational system and values," read the statement.

The labor group also called on the Health Department to provide free face masks to poor citizens residing and working in areas identified by the government as high-risk areas.

The number of coronavirus patients and deaths continue to increase in China with at least 14,380 confirmed cases as of Feb. 2. At least 304 people have died due to the virus. 

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