Children wearing masks attend Mass at My Hoa Church in Ho Chi Minh City on Feb. 2. (UCA News photo)
Catholics in Vietnam have taken measures to prevent the novel coronavirus outbreak from spreading across the country.
On Feb. 1 Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc declared the serious respiratory disease caused by the new coronavirus an epidemic in the country.
Prime Minister Phuc said the disease had been reported in three provinces — Khanh Hoa, Thanh Hoa and Vinh Phuc.
He also set up a steering committee, led by Deputy Prime Minister Vu Duc Dam, to direct all public agencies to control and contain the spread of the virus.
The Ministry of Health confirmed on Feb. 2 that the country’s seven virus-infected patients included two Chinese visitors since the first case of the virus was reported on Jan. 23.
The latest infection is a 73-year-old Vietnamese-American man who is being treated at the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Ho Chi Minh City. The patient was in transit for two hours in Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus, on Jan. 15 before flying to Vietnam.
Vietnam Airlines announced on Feb. 1 that it was suspending all flights to and from destinations in China to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. It will suspend flights between Hanoi and Hong Kong and Macau from Feb. 5.
On Jan. 31 the government suspended all celebrations of the spring festival and urged people to wear face masks in public places.
Over 60 universities and colleges across the country announced they will be closed this week to contain the outbreak. In addition, 23 cities and provinces nationwide will close all their nurseries and high schools.
On Feb. 2, Bishop Peter Nguyen Van Kham, general secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Vietnam, called on the faithful to pray for scientists to speedily find a cure for the disease.
They were urged “to pray to God to heal those who have been infected and for other people not to contract the epidemic,” Bishop Kham said in an announcement.
The bishop of My Tho offered some prevention measures by asking Catholics to receive the Eucharist by hand and requesting those who have a fever and cough not to attend services. He also asked church members to curtail gatherings for festivals and pilgrimages until the epidemic is under control.
Father Francis Xavier Dau Nguyen Hoang Linh, pastor of Nam Hoa parish with 4,000 members in Ho Chi Minh City, said his parish hands out free face masks to churchgoers at weekend Masses.
Father Linh, 55, said he taught them how to maintain personal hygiene and protect their community from the coronavirus.
Nguyen Thi My Phuong, a pharmacist, said there is a severe shortage of medical supplies, especially face masks which now fetch much higher prices. A box of 50 which previously sold for 50,000 dong (US$2.16) now retails at 120,000 to 150,000 dong.
Many churches have asked attendees to wear masks to weekend Masses while priests were seen wearing masks to celebrate Masses.
Sacred Heart Cathedral, one of the most popular tourist destinations in Da Nang, has been closed to visitors since Jan. 26. The Gothic-style pink cathedral with a weathercock-topped steeple said in a statement that it will post notice on its reopening as soon as the epidemic has been contained.
Some 12,000 Chinese tourists reportedly visited the city during the Lunar New Year starting on Jan. 25.
The 96-year-old cathedral also asked local Catholics to closely monitor the epidemic situation and take appropriate self-protection.