Northern Ireland news

Coronavirus: Fonts to be drained and sign of peace suspended in Catholic churches as part of precautions

St Patrick's Church on Donegall Street in Belfast. Churches are to drain fonts in a bid to combat the spread of the coronavirus. Picture by Hugh Russell

HOLY water fonts will be drained and the sign of peace suspended in Catholic churches in a bid to battle the spread of the coronavirus.

Dioceses have contacted their priests to outline a series of measures, including advice that communion should only be given on the hands and not the tongue.

The Church of Ireland has also suspended the sign of peace and advised parishioners not to attend services if they feel ill.

Bishop of Down and Connor Noel Treanor yesterday wrote to churches in his diocese asking them to take the measures in light of advice from the Public Health Agency and communication from the Irish Episcopal Conference Secretariat.

Mass-goers are asked not to make the traditional sign of peace by shaking hands - a precaution which is already in place in some areas during the winter months to combat the spread of colds and flu.

However, the measures to battle the coronavirus also include the unusual move of draining fonts.

During Mass, only the celebrant should drink from the chalice.

Holy Communion will then only be given on the hands.

Eucharistic ministers are asked to wash their hands "with particular care before and after distributing Holy Communion".

Parishes have also been asked to consider providing hand sanitisers at the entrance and exits to churches and also ensure that surfaces which are frequently touched, including door handles and tables, are regularly cleaned.

In a statement released yesterday a spokesman for the Down and Connor diocese said: "These measures are preventative and should not in any way raise any existing levels of concern.

"Best practice in all circumstances at this time of year should be followed in accordance with the Public Health Agency's advice and normal levels of hygiene.

"All parishioners should be advised to take the usual and necessary precautions before attending regular services in churches open to the public, such as: washing/sanitising hands before attending Mass; washing/sanitising hands after coughing or sneezing; use of disposable handkerchiefs and coughing into the crook of the elbow and not into the palms of hands etc."

A spokesman for the Irish Episcopal Conference Secretariat said dioceses across the island are following best advice.

"Guidance from the public health authorities north and south is being followed and dioceses are publishing their own advice on this matter," he said.

"The situation is being kept under continuous review."

A spokesman for the Church of Ireland asked parishioners who exhibit coronavirus symptoms not to ask ministers for pastoral visits.

The Anglican church also said Holy Communion should only be administered on the hands and only the celebrant should drink from the chalice.

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