03/19/2020, 14.37
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Coronavirus: Indian churches open only for individual praying

The number of COVID-19 cases has reached 169, with three deaths. Bishops urge people to “avoid panic and blind violence". A patient commits suicide by jumping from the seventh floor of a hospital. Two students were attacked because for allegedly testing positive. Priests and believers are to follow certain guidelines during the Easter Triduum.

New Delhi (AsiaNews) – The North East India Regional Bishops’ Council (NEIRBC) issued a set of guidelines to contain the spread of coronavirus following a two-day meeting at the pastoral centre in Dibrugarh, Assam.

According to the instructions, Catholics are dispensed from attending Sunday Mass and are urged to avoid gatherings, doing the sign of peace, kissing the crucifix or using a single towel to wash the feet on Holy Thursday; however, churches will remain open for individual worshippers who want to pray.

NEIRBC spokesman Fr Felix Anthony said that Archbishop John Moolachira of Guwahati, who heads the Council, has made an appeal to Catholic believers, parishes and the wider community.

For a start, on behalf of the Council, the prelate is urging people “to follow the guidelines and instructions of their respective States to contain the spread of the pandemic”.

Above all, people are urged to comply with health regulations and take the necessary precautions to “avoid panic, as fear is more dangerous than the virus itself.”

In at least one case, fear has led to a death. A man who tested positive to COVID-19 took his own life by jumping from the seventh floor of a Delhi hospital after he was sent there by airport authorities.

At present, the number of positive cases in India has risen to 169, with three deaths. The government has called on Indians to stay at home as much as possible. Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to speak to the nation tonight.

Fear also takes the form of blind violence sparked by suspicion and rumours, which the bishops condemn, Fr Anthony said.

Such reactions are reportedly behind an incident near the North Campus of the University of Delhi, where six men attacked two students from north-eastern India for allegedly carrying the coronavirus.

To counter this, the bishops have appealed for peace and an end to discrimination against people from this region at such a critical time.

According to NEIRBC guidelines, water stoops must also be emptied and holy communion should be given in the hand.

In some parishes, the local pastors are issuing guidelines for Easter Triduum celebrations. On Holy Thursday, priests will use disposable wipes, not the same towel to wash feet; on Good Friday the faithful must avoid kissing the cross, and must instead bow before Christ the Redeemer.

The NEIRBC also asks priests to avoid physical contact when they pray at a sick person's bedside or when they receive offerings.

The Council has also called on health experts to engage in educational outreach to help people maintain proper health standards, recognise the symptoms of the virus, and prevent infection.

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