Coronavirus fears impact religious gatherings and practices across the world

Mohannad Alghamdi/iStock(LONDON) — Restrictions have been put in place at religious sites in the United States and across the world amid fears over the spread of the novel coronavirus.

New measures to combat the spread of the virus have particularly impacted religious sites in Iran, Italy and Saudi Arabia.

Across the U.S., church authorities are advising that worshippers refrain from hugs, handshakes, handholding and chalice sharing during Lent. The Archdioceses of Oklahoma City, Atlanta, Houston and Maryland have issued guidance to church-goers as the authorities continue to learn more about the spread of the coronavirus.

Meanwhile, the Archdiocese of Newark has said priests, deacons and ministers must practice good hygiene and any individual “who is sick or has flu-like symptoms is urged to stay home.”

Authorities in Italy, the worst affected country in Europe with over 3,000 cases and 107 deaths so far, have imposed restrictions on the catechism and mass services across the country.

The Italian Bishop’s Conference suspended teaching the catechism, all church youth club activities and marriage preparation courses until March 15, according to ANSA news agency.

The conference also announced on Thursday that mass could continue to be celebrated in churches throughout Italy except for the red zone, as long as the government’s regulations on person-to-person contact are followed.

While church services are continuing to go ahead, the Italian bishops have advised worshippers to maintain a respectable distance from one another.

Meanwhile, all churches and mosques have been closed in Bethlehem for 14 days, including the world-renowned Church of Nativity, the Palestinian Health Ministry announced on Thursday. The measure has been accompanied by a closure of all schools in the Bethlehem and Jericho areas after Greek tourists staying at a Bethlehem hotel left for Greece and later tested positive for the virus.

At the Sanctuary of Lourdes in France, the authorities have said the pilgrimage season beginning next month will go ahead but the pools that sick people bathe in to heal have been closed temporarily, according to Crux Now.

In Iran, another country severely affected by the coronavirus, the authorities have cancelled Friday prayers in the central cities of all provinces. A Health Ministry spokesperson confirmed that the country had recorded 591 new case and 15 deaths overnight, bringing the totals up to 3,513 and 107 respectively.

And the Umrah pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, the Islamic holy city in Saudi Arabia, has been suspended for Saudi residents and citizens as of Wednesday, following a ban already in place on foreign citizens entering the holy cities, Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Ministry announced.

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