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Dublin: 5°C Monday 30 November 2020

Covid-19: Dublin churches following advice on handshaking and Communion

Priests are being told to follow guidance for when a flu is circulating.

Irish churches are preparing for coronavirus.
Irish churches are preparing for coronavirus.
Image: Shutterstock/inalex

THE SHAKING OF hands and taking communion on the tongue are being discouraged in Dublin churches as preparations continue to deal with a Covid-19 outbreak in Ireland. 

Globally, there have now been more than 80,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus disease Covid-19.

Last evening, the first case of the coronavirus in Northern Ireland was confirmed. 

According to the most extensive global study done so far, the novel coronavirus was benign in 80.9% of cases, “serious” in 13.8% and “critical” in 4.7%. The remaining 0.6% was not specified.

Part of the reason Covid-19 has been declared a public health emergency is due to the speed at which it has spread compared to other coronaviruses (like Sars and Mers) and the fact that there’s a lot about the disease we still don’t know – including how exactly it’s being transmitted.

In Ireland, a Six Nations clash with Italy has already been called off as the situation across Europe changes rapidly. 

“Mass gatherings” have come under particular scrutiny as the HSE and the Department of Health respond to the virus

Some Irish churches are now responding to the outbreak. 

A spokesperson for the Archdiocese of Dublin said that Dublin parishes are currently been told to follow the advice for “when flu or an epidemic is circulating”

While more guidance might be issued as the situation develops, for now parish priests are being told to take the normal precautions for flu season, which advises people that anyone with flu symptoms are not obligated to attend Mass, and states that giving communion on the tongue “should be discouraged” during flu season. 

However, it also notes that if giving communion to people on their tongue, priests or individuals “should clean their hands using an alcohol based hand gel”.  

“No one is to be refused communion because they wish to receive on the tongue,” the guidance states. 

When it comes to the shaking of hands, the guidance notes that the “sign of peace” has a “low risk of spreading” viruses. 

It states:

However, since even under ordinary circumstances some people are not able to shake hands due to medical conditions, one might choose among a number of other options of shaking hands to make a bow of the head to the people around you and say “Peace be with you”.

The advice is adapted from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, which issued updated guidance to churches in January 2018 for handing seasonal flu

That advice also states that the “hygienic upkeep of the fonts is needed particularly”. It advises frequent changing of the water followed by the cleaning of the font with a detergent like washing-up liquid. 

A spokesperson for the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference said that the extent of the precautions to be taken was an individual matter for each of the 26 dioceses in Ireland. 

Fr Diarmuid Hogan said that the Diocese of Galway, Kilmacduagh and Kilfenora “continues to closely monitor the implications presented by the spread of the Covid19 virus”. 

The diocese, he said, will always “abide by any and all guidance issued by the HSE on the matter”. 

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In the diocese of Cork and Ross – which covers Cork city – a spokesperson said that guidelines for the winter flu precautions were issued to all parishes on Wednesday. 

In a statement, a HSE spokesperson said that the Health Protection Surveillance Centre website will be updated to address “gathering for Mass”. 

The spokesperson directed anyone with questions about Covid-19 to the HSE and Department of Health websites. 

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