12 February 2020, The Tablet

Coronavirus death toll rises in China

Coronavirus death toll rises in China

Medical team members bid farewell to a colleague before leaving for Hubei Province at Shenyang Taoxian International Airport in Shenyang
Yang Qing/Xinhua News Agency/PA Images

More than 900 people have now died in mainland China from the coronavirus that emerged in the central city of Wuhan at the end of last year.

China’s National Health Commission reported there were 97 new fatalities from the virus on 9 February, making Sunday the deadliest day so far.

The new fatalities brought the death toll on the mainland to 908, most of them in Wuhan and the surrounding Hubei province. A total of 40,171 infections had been confirmed nationwide by yesterday.

China’s soaring demand for protective equipment and medical supplies with the spread of the coronavirus has prompted Jinde Charities, a government-registered Catholic charity, to appeal to the universal Catholic Church for help in obtaining items such as face masks, surgical masks, and goggles.

“There is a serious shortage of some medical supplies” said Fr Zhang Shijiang of Jinde charities. “Medical supplies are not just lacking but dangerously lacking”.

The Vatican sent 700,000 medical masks to China last week. At least 25 countries have confirmed cases.

After Hong Kong experienced its first coronavirus death, nine civil and religious groups, including the Justice and Peace Commission of Hong Kong Diocese, pressed publicly for urgent government intervention. They said their government had failed to provide adequate protection for its people or to prevent an inflow of people from mainland China. Oscar Lai of the Justice and Peace Commission called for an inventory of anti-epidemic materials and details of the supply system, particularly for emergency workers.

The Hong Kong Catholic Commission for Labour Affairs wants a hotline set up to disseminate news about the epidemic and to initiate employee-friendly measures.

Coronavirus has forced religious restrictions in Singapore. Christian and Muslim leaders have exempted people with symptoms of illness from attending prayer gatherings, after the city state reported 30 confirmed cases of infection, making it the third most-affected country after China and Japan.

The Archdiocese of Singapore has exempted people with virus symptoms from attending Mass or other community activities. It also asked Catholics to receive Communion in the hand only, and instructed parishes to remove holy water containers at church entrances.

South Korean dioceses, including the Archdiocese of Seoul, have instructed Catholics to take protective measures.

Catholics should not attend Sunday Mass if they are ill, and dioceses have cancelled or postponed pastoral activities that gather people in large numbers.

Archbishop Hyginus Kim Hee-joong of Kwangju, president of the Korean Catholic Bishops’ Conference, said Catholics “should join the effort to contain the deadly virus” and “show care to those who are suffering from the virus”.

China says that coronavirus victims who die in Wuhan should be speedily cremated without funerals, burials or farewell ceremonies in an effort to control the outbreak as the death toll rises.

Bodies will be cremated at designated funeral homes near their location, and they cannot be transported between regions and cannot be preserved by burial or other means, said the guidelines issued by the National Health Commission, the Ministry of Civil Affairs and the Ministry of Public Security.

Christian funerals have already been limited in some areas of China as the government begins to apply a set of repressive regulations on religious practices that came into force on 1 February. Wenzhou Diocese in Zhejiang reports that priests can visit parishioners’ homes but not conduct any religious ceremonies or prayers, such as prayers for the dead. A priest of a Henan parish, which is state-registered, said last week that, “the church on the ground is now oppressed no differently from the underground”.

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