‘Strong measures’: Church in Hong Kong reacts to coronavirus outbreak

The Hong Kong Diocese has announced a number of measures, including a temporary suspension of Mass, to help stem the spread of the new coronavirus. 

From Feb. 15 to 28, all Sunday and weekday Masses will be canceled, the diocese announced.

That period corresponds with the Ash Wednesday liturgy that marks the beginning of the Lenten season.

Cardinal John Tong, the apostolic administrator of Hong Kong, said the “disappointing” measure was necessitated by the importance of the next two weeks, which “will be a crucial time to suppress the epidemic,” reported Vatican News.

Likewise, cancellation of Mass would help “avoid people gathering in big groups because of the risk of contamination,” Cardinal Tong said. 

Churches, however, will remain open for anyone wishing to pray on their own, while a live-stream Mass will be made available. 

The Church will also provide Eucharistic Adoration from 10am to 2pm on Feb. 16, said French missionary Father Nicolas de Francqueville, who is currently running a Hong Kong parish.

Father Nicolas told Vatican Radio he hoped this trying time would grant Christians and others an opportunity to “show more solidarity,” slow down their lives and spend more time with their families, and “have more time to pray, to reflect on the sense of their lives.”

With new coronavirus cases exceeding 65,000 as of Feb. 14, Hong Kong has registered at least 53 cases and one death. Hundreds of people have either voluntarily placed themselves in isolation or been put under observation. 

In order to stem the epidemic, schools have been shuttered until at least March 16, while health care workers went on strike earlier this month to demand a total border closure with the mainland after cross-border rail and ferry services were suspended. 

Prior to the new coronavirus outbreak, Hong Kong had been racked by months of protests which were initially sparked by plans to allow criminal suspects be extradited to mainland China, but later morphed into a broader pro-democracy struggle against Beijing’s encroachment on the region. 

China’s handling of the epidemic has further underscored mistrust of Beijing from pro-democracy supporters, while also stocking fears that some argue transcend politics

Hong Kongers, wearing masks to protect against the spread of coronavirus, walk through an MTR station on Feb. 11. (shuttersock.com photo)

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