01/09/2021, 12.40
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Beijing authorities use the pandemic to shut down all 155 religious venues, promise to stop illegal gatherings

by Wang Zhicheng

The decision was taken despite the fact that religious activities have had “zero infections”. Strict measures and continuous controls have led many priests to close their churches at Christmas. On social media, Catholics are accused of spreading the virus, a charged rejected by the Patriotic Catholic Association. The authorities put a stop to “illegal activities” by underground communities.

Beijing (AsiaNews) – Beijing municipal authorities have decided to close all 155 religious venues in the capital to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. The decision was announced at a press conference held yesterday at Beijing Municipality’s Information Office (pictured).

Together with the local United Front and the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Bureau, Beijing Municipality decided that “from now on, all 155 religious places in the city are closed to the outside world and collective religious activities are suspended.”

Curiously, the Information Office acknowledged that “so far there have been no new coronary pneumonia infections and no suspected cases among the 840 religious in 155 religious centres in our city, and that the 'zero contagion' goal has been reached.”

Churches and temples, like ordinary Chinese, have been subjected to a drastic lockdown since January 2020. Only in July where they allowed to reopen after shopping centres, shops, markets, cinemas had been open already for a while, but under very strict conditions – fewer congregants, social distancing, temperature taking, shorter services, etc. – to avoid contagion.

Beijing Municipality’s Information Office also acknowledged that “during important religious holidays, such as the birth of the Buddha, Eid al-Fitr, Christmas and other religious holidays, religious activities in various places remained stable and orderly”.

Indeed, as a result of stringent conditions and constant visits by police, many priests chose to keep their churches closed, opting instead for services on online.

Beijing’s drastic decision seems have been sparked by a new wave of more than 300 COVID-19 cases reported last week in Hebei, in particular in Shijiazhuang, the provincial capital.

According to the Chinese Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, the latest outbreak occurred in a rural area where religious gatherings take place at least once a week.

Some anonymous posts on social media have accused Catholics of spreading the virus. In a statement, the Shijiazhuang Patriotic Catholic Association rejected the claim as a false, noting that the diocese had nothing to do with the spread of the virus, and that so far “only one Catholic from Shijiazhuang has been confirmed positive for COVID-19.”

Despite this, churches and temples will remain closed and the authorities have promised to “conduct special investigations into illegal religious activities in rural areas, curb illegal religious activities, and prevent the risk of the epidemic spreading.”

For some Catholics in the capital, the authorities are using the pandemic to wipe out underground communities that make up the majority of Catholics in Hebei, with over a million members.

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