Canadian dioceses are closely monitoring the coronavirus outbreak in China, but no special precautions will be implemented at parishes across Canada this weekend amid spreading concerns of a worldwide pandemic like SARS or the H1N1 virus from earlier this century. 

Dioceses are staying alert in assessing the risks that could accompany any type of virus that could threaten the lives of people, considering the large numbers that gather to celebrate the Mass each Sunday. The Catholic Register contacted several of the larger dioceses across Canada but all said they were monitoring the situation and had not implemented any new protocols.

“The Roman Catholic Diocese of Saskatoon has no plans in place at this time to change any procedures or take any action in response to the coronavirus outbreak,” said Kiply Yaworski, diocesan communications coordinator. “Appropriate actions would be discerned if cases were confirmed here in Canada, and/or when health authorities advised taking steps.”

In Toronto, Canada’s largest diocese, Neil MacCarthy, director of public relations and communications, said the archdiocese is keeping an eye on things as they develop.

“(We’re) just monitoring the situation at present given that no cases have been identified here,” said MacCarthy. 

The answers were similar from Hamilton, Regina, Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax-Yarmouth, Montreal, London and Ottawa.

Dioceses generally have protocols in place should such an outbreak occur, and such plans were most recently implemented in 2009 when the H1N1 virus wreaked havoc worldwide. Estimates vary widely, but the Centre for Disease Control in the United States estimates between 151,000 and 575,000 people died from the virus, which causes what is known as the “swine flu.” In Canada, Statistics Canada reported 428 deaths from among the thousands infected by H1N1.

In September 2009, then Archbishop Thomas Collins cautioned parishes in a letter to remain vigilant about the swine flu. The archdiocese was in constant communication with health officials to determine if it was necessary to alter any liturgical practices. The letter recommended parishioners use hygiene practices specific to the celebration of the liturgy and suggested parishes provide hand-cleaning stations near church entrances. It also reminded priests, deacons and extraordinary ministers of Holy Communion to practise good hand hygiene.

Officials in Canada are monitoring six people for signs they may have contracted a coronavirus from China, but federal Health Minister Patty Hajdu stressed that the risk to Canadians remains low. The World Health Organization is contemplating whether to declare a global health emergency because of the disease that began in China but is beginning to spread to other nations. 

China has restricted travel for 35 million people in 12 cities near the centre of the outbreak, including Wuhan with its population of 11 million, as the death toll has risen to 26. Chinese hospitals have been overwhelmed by the rapidly expanding outbreak.