By LEANDRA ROLLE and EARYEL BOWLEG
AS fears continue to mount over the deadly coronavirus, Catholic Archbishop Patrick Pinder is urging parishioners across the country with flu-like symptoms to remain at home until their health has been fully restored.
This, according to Archbishop Pinder, is a precaution that must be taken by the church to alleviate rising concerns in the country over the possible spread of the coronavirus. Up to press time, there were no reported or suspected cases of the virus in the country, however it is quickly spreading throughout the United States and other parts of the world.
“This is by no means to indicate that we are currently in a crisis or epidemic locally or rather it is to exercise an abundance of caution and to be proactive and responsible in the face of this current reality,” the religious leader said in a letter to parishioners last Thursday.
Other precautions, noted by the archbishop, include maintaining good hygiene.
“This means: cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue then throw the tissue into the trash; avoid close contact with persons who are sick; avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth without washing your hands; clean and disinfect objects and surfaces that are frequently touched…”
The archbishop also urged individuals to “stay at home when you are sick except to get medical care; wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.”
In his letter, Archbishop Pinder also noted the various changes that will take effect during mass in all Catholic churches as a result of the virus.
For example, all holy water containers at the church door will be emptied, including the “baptismal font.”
Physical contact, “such as handshaking during the sign of peace” along with the distribution of “the precious blood” during communion, is temporarily suspended, he also said.
He added: “For the time being, communion should be distributed in the hand and not on the tongue.
“Eucharist ministers should thoroughly wash their hands before and after the distribution of communion. The celebrant is to use a verbal greeting and refrain from physical contact while greeting parishioners before and after mass.
“Parishioners who have respiratory flu-like symptoms are encouraged to stay at home,” he continued. “As circumstances change with regard to the coronavirus (COVID-19), these guidelines will be modified accordingly and you will be duly informed.”
The Anglican diocese is also implementing new measures in view of COVID-19 fears, however Anglican churches in The Bahamas will continue the practice of Holy Communion with members of the congregation drinking from the same common cup.
A pastoral letter from Bishop Laish Boyd, which was to be read and distributed yesterday in all parishes in the diocese, urged churchgoers not to panic, but to take the threat seriously.
“At this time, we will continue to use the common cup,” Bishop Boyd’s letter read. “Persons who are uncomfortable with this may receive in one kind, that is, the Body of Christ only.”
The measures also include suspending until further notice intinction. This is the act of dipping the bread in the wine.
Hand shaking and hugging during the Anglican greeting of peace may continue and, if uncomfortable, individuals can bump fists, bump elbows or bow reverently.
Bishop Boyd also advised church members to practise frequent hand washing and use hand sanitisers. He added that those handling money should take “extra sanitising precautions”.
He suggested, if possible, that hand sanitisers be placed at the entrances of all churches.
“Clergy, chalice bearers and servers should ensure that they wash their hands before and after services and, where possible, sanitise their hands before and after the administration of Holy Communion,” the letter noted.
“Holy water stoops should be emptied daily (the water being poured into the ground, as in our liturgical and devotional practice). In the blessing of holy water, salt is always used. For the time being we will use a little more salt than usual to increase the curative properties of the water.
“If you are coughing, sneezing, etc, then refrain from hugging or hand shaking at the peace, and receive communion in only one kind, that is, the Body of Christ, only, in your hand.”
To date, the current number of confirmed global new coronavirus cases is 109,670. Cases in China account for the majority with 80,703 reported.
Italy comes in second with a total of 7,375 COVID-19 cases followed by South Korea with 7,313 cases.
In an effort to further tighten the country’s borders against the entry of the virus, the government announced on Thursday it was implementing more quarantine measures for people travelling to the Bahamas from Italy, South Korea and Iran.
Any non-Bahamian resident who visited any of the three countries in the last 20 days will be denied entry.
However, Bahamian citizens and residents coming from Italy, South Korea and Iran will be subject to quarantine for a maximum of 14 days. These measures were already in place for China, the epicentre of the outbreak.
With three Bahamians in quarantine up to press time, Health Minister Dr Duane Sands said officials expect quarantine numbers to increase in the coming days. To date, 26 people have been released from quarantine.
More than 3,000 people have died from the virus.
Meanwhile, the Catholic archbishop is urging local parishioners to pray for those who have contracted the disease.
“Let us pray too that we may be spared any outbreak of this disease among us,” Archbishop Pinder said.