Updated: February 24, 2021 02:28 AM GMT
Vietnamese Catholics in masks pray in front of a picture of Divine Mercy at Xuan Loc Cathedral in Long Khanh city on Feb. 21. (Photo courtesy of giaophanxuanloc.net)
Health authorities have urged Vietnam's religious leaders to stop in-person services and move worship online to contain the coronavirus pandemic following a ceremony at a pagoda attended by a large crowd.
On Feb. 20, Vien Giac Pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City’s Binh Tan district was closed after a large crowd gathered to worship at an early lunar year ceremony the previous night.
On Feb. 22, district health officials reported that Covid-19 tests of the temple’s eight monks and 24 volunteers proved negative.
However, the city’s Center for Disease Control asked local mosques, pagodas, temples, churches and other places of worship to organize services with fewer than 20 people. They must also provide health declarations, antiseptics, face masks, check body temperatures and maintain strict social distancing, while facilities must be cleaned on a regular basis.
Venerable Thich Thien Quy, secretary of the Buddhist Management Committee based in the city, called on Buddhists to protect their personal health and religious activities, especially mid-lunar first month festivals, by following health regulations when they visit pagodas.
Anthony Nguyen Huy Hoang from Trung Quan Parish said Catholics have been maintaining social distance when attending lunar new year ceremonies and services at churches since Feb. 9. Local authorities also warned many parish priests against holding services with large groups.
Hoang, who works at a nursery, said he hopes local schools will be opened next month as the city had reported no locally transmitted infections during the previous 11 days and only one place was still kept in quarantine.
Father Francis Xavier Do Duc Luc, head of the Office of Xuan Loc Bishop’s House, said a new wave of Covid-19 variants were detected just before the lunar new year festival, so people face a high risk of infection.
Father Luc called on Catholics to stop non-essential gatherings, socializing and meetings, while asking priests to celebrate more Masses at weekends in order to reduce the number of worshippers at each Mass and practice social distancing.
Noting people at some places ignore anti-coronavirus regulations, he said parish priests should remind people to wear face masks, wash hands, keep themselves safely distanced and clean their homes. Xuan Loc Diocese covering Dong Nai province serves one million Catholics.
He advised the elderly, patients, health workers, mothers with babies and those who are quarantined at home to stay home and attend online services.
Vaccination starts next month
The Health Ministry said the country plans to start its coronavirus vaccination program in March once the first batch of 204,000 doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine arrives on Feb. 28. Vietnam expects to receive 60 million doses this year, including 30 million under the WHO-led Covax scheme.
Vietnam will be supplied over 4.8 million doses under the Covax scheme, 25-35 percent of it in the first quarter and the rest in the second quarter.
The ministry plans to prioritize frontline health workers, foreign affairs staff, customs and immigration agencies, army and public security forces, teachers, elderly people, essential service staff and other high-risk people.
The ministry said some 500,000 health staff and 116,000 frontline medical workers will be vaccinated in the first quarter.
The Southeast Asian country of 98 million people has recorded 803 new cases since the latest outbreak began on Jan. 27 in Hai Duong province, or about a third of its overall caseload of 2,395 infections since its first cases were detected a year ago.