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Church offers guidance on stopping coronavirus spread

The Catholic Church in England and Wales has recommended that some parishes may have to suspend the Sign of Peace and has issued potential warnings against taking Communion from the Chalice and using holy water in an effort to prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus.

The recommendations come as the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales (CBCEW) updated its guidance for parishes and congregations in response to the virus.

The CBCEW last month issued guidelines, compiled by Professor Jim McManus, a member of the Church’s Healthcare Executive Group and the Director of Public Health at Hertfordshire County Council.

But amid an escalation in coronavirus cases in the UK, the bishops have now updated this guidance, implementing a new three-stage-plan.

The guidance advises that the UK is currently on Stage One, which states that universal good hygiene should be practised, with good regular cleaning of surfaces and everyone attending Mass using hand sanitizer as they enter the church, with dispensers made available in porches or entrances.

Eucharistic ministers should also sanitise their hands before and after distributing Communion – a practice that should be done at all times regardless of the coronavirus, the guidance states.

In the current circumstances, where there are very few cases in UK and no cases in local parishes, the guidance also advises that there is no need for the Chalice to be withdrawn or the Sign of Peace suspended. However, it does recommend that people with cold and flu like symptoms should refrain from the physical Sign of Peace, taking Communion from the Chalice and advised that they should receive the host on the hand only.

Those visiting parishioners at home have been advised to wash their hands before giving the sacraments and there should also be no pastoral visits to people who are self-isolating until isolation ends, with any support offered over the phone.

If the status were to worsen, with a number of cases in local communities or a case specifically linked to a parish community, and Stage Two is reached, the bishops advise that the distribution of Communion under both kinds should be suspended, with the host being given on the hand only and the Eucharistic minister ensuring you that the host is placed in the hand of the recipient in such a way that there is no physical contact.

At stage two, the physical Sign of Peace should be suspended, holy water stoups removed, the collection plate should not be passed around and the use of shared hymn books and missals, which could help transmit the virus, should be ceased.

Public veneration of relics and the Cross on Good Friday should not be by kissing or physically touching them.

At stage two, those most vulnerable – elderly, people with weakened immune systems and long term conditions like cancer, diabetes and heart disease – are also advised to refrain from large parish gatherings and stay at home. Catering, including teas and coffees, at large parish gatherings where multiple people touch mugs, utensils, biscuits etc. should also be suspended.

If the virus were to reach Stage Three, where there are many cases of the coronavirus in local parishes, the advice states: ‘The public authorities will give general advice on suspending large public gatherings. These are the current circumstances in Singapore, for example.’

In the case of reaching stage three, the bishops advise that ‘Mass and Liturgy in public should be suspended and parish gatherings suspended’.

The guidance notes that specific and detailed guidance will be produced should it reach stage three. However, it explains that at the time of writing, this is not needed.

Picture: There is no need to withdraw the chalice in Stage One.