No handshakes: Viral outbreak spooks Asian places of worship

Coronavirus

In this Feb. 10, 2020, photo, a Catholic woman wearing a face mask prays during a mass at the Minor Basilica of San Lorenzo Ruiz in Manila’s Chinatown, Philippines. In a popular Catholic church in Manila, nearly half of the pews were empty for Sunday Mass. The few hundred worshippers who showed up, some in protective masks, have been asked to refrain from shaking or holding hands in prayers. (AP Photo/Aaron Favila)

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Temporary restrictions and dwindling crowds in places of worship across Asia have underscored the extent of the scare over a viral outbreak that has permeated many aspects of life in the religiously diverse region.

Filipino Catholics have been asked to refrain from shaking or holding hands during Mass. Buddhist temples, Christian churches and Muslim mosques have been ordered closed in mainland China, where the new coronavirus strain was first detected.

In Hong Kong, public Masses have been suspended for two weeks. Discouraging the devout from going to the places of worship can be highly sensitive, and some consider it as a test of faith.

Indonesia’s health minister says a strong immunity, healthy lifestyle and prayers were the best weapons against the outbreak.

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