Catholics in Ireland have been told not to offer the sign of peace to other church goers while the coronavirus outbreak remains ongoing.
They have also been warned against blessing themselves with holy water.
The warnings have come from the Dublin Archdiocese who urged both priests and parishioners to stay away from mass if they are feeling unwell.
It follows news that a woman became the first person on the island of Ireland to be diagnosed with the virus after she passed through Dublin Airport.
The Dublin Archdiocese issued the following statement:
“We have circulated (guidelines) to all parishes in the Archdiocese. (Persons who are ill) may be asked to limit their social interactions for 14 days, including staying at home and not attending religious services.
“In order to reduce the possible spread of infection, these people should not be visited by religious leaders/members of the clergy while they are in self-isolation. Pastoral care can be provided over the telephone/Skype if resources permit,” it continues.
“Most physical interaction during religious services, e.g. shaking hands while exchanging the sign of peace in Christian religious services involves a low-risk of spreading the virus, especially if members of the congregation who are unwell do not attend religious services while they are ill.
“However, because Covid-19 is a new disease that has not been seen in people before, we need to exercise extreme caution to limit the spread of the virus.
“Current information suggests that Covid-19 can spread easily between people and could be spread from an infected person even before they develop any symptoms.
“For these reasons, we suggest that physical interaction during religious services, including the sign of peace, should be suspended. For Christian religious services, the priest may choose to give the congregation permission to carry out an alternative sign of peace that does not involve hand contact (such as smile/nod/bow) if so wished.
“The practice of shaking hands on greeting and departure at religious services is to also be suspended for both clergy and laity. Massgoers are being advised that holy water fonts are not to be used.
“Everyone administering Holy Communion should wash their hands or use alcohol-based hand gel before beginning. Holy Communion should be administered into the hands only and not onto the tongue.
“The use of communal vessels should be suspended.”
“With regard to arrangement for parochial activities and social religious gatherings on church premises, they should follow sensible practices, including hand hygiene and respiratory hygiene.”
Written by Michael Kehoe @michaelcalling