Hong Kong bishop cancels all services amid Covid surge

Hong Kong bishop

As COVID-19 surges through the densely populated city of Hong Kong, Bishop Stephen Chow made the difficult decision to close churches for all services.

“Due to the government’s new measures to curtail social interactions, the diocese temporary closed all churches and chapels for public worship. The authorities have banned even conducting online Mass at churches. Regrettably, this was our first time to adopt such a stringent approach” the bishop said.

Bishop Chow said his “heart was heavy” when he announced the closure of churches on February 8.

“I could feel the disappointment of Catholics because of their inability to pray in the soothing tranquillity of their churches during such a worrisome time” he said.

“I could also feel the mounting anxiety with a deepening sense of helplessness in the people around me. When would this come to an end? When could we reclaim our ‘normal’ lives back, if ever”.

The highly transmissible omicron variant has affected healthcare facilities and proved hard to control. On February 27 Hong Kong reported a record 26,026 infections with 83 deaths. More than 67 deaths were reported at nursing homes.

Bishop Chow, who was appointed by the Holy See in May last year, said Hong Kong has many elderly people who are yet to be vaccinated against Covid-19. As a result, they have become jobless and are dying.

“Besides the government, we have to render them the essential protection, assistance and hope” the 63-year-old prelate said in his letter to the city’s 400,000 catholics.

For two years, Hong Kong successfully insulated most of its residents from COVID-19. The population often went months without a single locally spread case. Then the omicron variant emerged.

The fast-spreading mutation breached Hong Kong’s defences and has been spreading rapidly. The infected are overflowing hospitals and isolation wards, prompting testing of the entire 7.4 million population. The city is hurriedly building six isolation and treatment centres to cope with the surge in cases.

The surge shows what happens when COVID-19 strikes a population unprotected by immunity from previous infections. It has exposed a low vaccination rate among elderly citizens who are bearing the brunt of the crisis.

Only about 30% of Hong Kong residents over the age of 80 and around 58% of those in their 70s are fully vaccinated, lagging younger populations by a large margin. This is despite the fact that vaccines have been widely available in Hong Kong since early 2021.


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