Sign of peace up to bishops
Removing the sign of peace due to flu outbreak will not be rolled out across Ireland’s dioceses.
“There is not a collective position on this – it is a matter for each individual diocese,” Martin Long, spokesman for the Bishops’ Conference, told The Irish Catholic.
The HSE has called for people to get the flu vaccine, and advised people to stay home if they are exhibiting ‘flu-like symptoms’ including fever, headache, aches, exhaustion, sneezing, sore throat, cough or chest discomfort.
However, the agency would make no recommendations in relation to minimising the risk of infection at church services. “That decision has to be made by the Church leaders,” HSE spokesperson Ann McLoone said.
Almost 200 people have been hospitalised with the Australian flu in Ireland. “That is less than last year when there were severely high numbers of hospitalisations,” said Ms McLoone, continuing, “but we haven’t hit the peak yet.”
The flu is spread by coughing or sneezing. Sufferers are contagious from one or two days before symptoms develop and up to five days afterwards.
In the northern diocese of Down and Connor, Bishop Noel Treanor has reactivated precautionary measures established in response to the ‘Swine Flu’ epidemic in 2009.
These include a suspension of the “customary ‘sign of peace’ handshake exchanged during Mass until the risk of infection is significantly reduced”, the “suspension of Holy Communion under both species”, and the requirement that all ministers “use alcohol gel or wash their hands in warm soapy water before Mass and after the distribution of Holy Communion to minimise risk of infection”.
Parishioners are also encouraged to use “disinfecting hand gels and hand wash soaps to minimise risk of infection”, said the diocesan statement.
The Australian flu strain – also known as H3N2 – has killed 300 people in Australia. It is due to peak in two weeks’ time.