Catholics attend a lunar year-end ceremony at Van Cuong Church in Phu Tho province on Jan. 26. (Photo courtesy of giaophanbacninh.org)
Three dioceses in Vietnam have canceled pastoral activities and called on Catholics to take preventative measures to stem the new coronavirus outbreak.
Government officials and health workers are racing against time to stop the surge in Covid-19 which has spread to nine cities and provinces, resulting in 257 new cases since the first new community transmissions were detected in the two provinces of Hai Duong and Quang Ninh on Jan. 27.
They have set up quarantine centers, provided massive testing, closed down schools, bars and discos in some places, and fined those who failed to wear face masks.
Bishop Cosme Hoang Van Dat of Bac Ninh said the Covid-19 outbreak has been developing uncontrollably and spreading quickly. The diocese covers the provinces of Bac Giang, Bac Ninh, Thai Nguyen, Tuyen Quang, Vinh Phuc and parts of Bac Kan, Hanoi, Hai Duong, Hung Yen and Phu Tho.
Bishop Dat ordered all planned lunar year-end ceremonies, patron feasts of associations, meetings and priestly retreats to be suspended, starting on Jan. 29.
The Jesuit prelate asked priests and Catholics to abide by preventative measures issued by health officials. In places where social distancing is required, priests should celebrate liturgical services simply many times per day so that people in small groups can attend.
He advised elderly people, patients and those who are in quarantine centers to attend online Masses and pray fervently.
Churches in places under quarantine should be open around the clock so that the faithful can visit and pray for the world in the difficult time.
Bishop Dat urged families to daily recite the Divine Mercy and rosaries and especially pray to St. Joseph for themselves and the country.
Bac Ninh and Hai Phong dioceses cover Hai Duong and Quang Ninh, the outbreak’s epicenters.
Archbishop Joseph Vu Van Thien, who serves as apostolic administrator of Hai Phong, called off a year-end gathering due on Feb. 1 because of the resurgence of the coronavirus.
Archbishop Thien called for people to maintain social distancing by attending online services on the diocese’s website, starting on Jan. 30.
Father Peter Kieu Cong Tung, chancellor of Ho Chi Minh City Archdiocese, called on people to remain vigilant against the new outbreak. Health officials warned about high risks of the outbreak in the country’s largest city.
Father Tung said those who have returned from the worst-hit regions should give their health declarations and seriously take quarantine measures. Those who have respiratory symptoms and came into contact with coronavirus suspects have to avoid public places.
He asked Catholics to restrict non-essential activities, clean church facilities and houses, wash their hands regularly, wear face masks, keep themselves at a safe distance and receive the Eucharist by hand.
The priest also asked parishes to obey previous anti-coronavirus measures issued by the Church in 2020.
As of Feb. 1, Vietnam had reported 1,819 confirmed Covid-19 infections with 35 deaths.