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Coronavirus: Faith groups offer advice on shaking hands and sharing hymn books

Varying levels of precaution have been taken by different faiths.

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A woman prays in an empty church in Milan (Antonio Calanni/AP)

A woman prays in an empty church in Milan (Antonio Calanni/AP)

A woman prays in an empty church in Milan (Antonio Calanni/AP)

Religious groups have issued guidance for worshippers on practices including hand-shaking, sharing hymn books and taking communion wine as the spread of coronavirus intensifies across the UK.

Varying levels of precaution have been taken by different faiths in a bid to protect congregations from catching the illness.

Quakers have been urged not to shake hands as they would normally at the end of their meetings, while Catholics in some dioceses are being advised not to offer their hands for the sign of peace.

Paul Parker, recording clerk for Quakers in Britain, said: “Like many organisations that hold regular meetings, we have given advice on taking sensible precautions without raising anxiety.

We have advised meetings that they shouldn’t shake hands in the current situationPaul Parker, Quakers in Britain

“Quakers usually shake hands at the end of their meetings for worship, as an expression of unity. But the act of shaking hands itself is not a core part of Quaker faith and there are many other ways Quakers can share this greeting.

“We have advised meetings that they shouldn’t shake hands in the current situation.”

A spokesman for the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said dioceses across the country would soon be moving into “stage two” of precautionary measures.

This would include suspending the physical sign of peace (a handshake), removal of holy water stoups and shared hymn books – as well as advising elderly parishioners to stay at home.

Catering at large parish gatherings where multiple people touch mugs and utensils would also be suspended, as would the passing round of collection plates during mass.

The spokesman added that the decision might be taken by bishops in “remote parts of England” to not advance precautions in their dioceses.

“No one size fits all and we are between stages, but my sense is that we are probably fast moving towards stage two,” he said.

On Thursday, the number of confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the UK rose to 116.

A patient with underlying health conditions also became the first person in the UK to die after testing positive for the virus.

Guidance issued by the Church of England asked “anyone with cold or flu symptoms to refrain from taking communion (wine) from the chalice”, but said there was currently no need for the practice to stop.

It added that no pastoral visits should be undertaken to people who are self-isolating but that “phone support” should still be provided.

A spokesman for the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said that much of the NHS advice and an emphasis on cleanliness and hygiene was “in line with Islamic tradition”.

In a statement, the MCB said “mosques, madrassas and Muslim community centres should already be following best hygiene practices”.

“But it is important that wudu (ablution) areas have sufficient soap, hand sanitiser and paper towels to ensure visitors are able to comply with hygiene advice,” it said.

It added that it was taking direction from the British Islamic Medical Association – a professional body of Muslim doctors – to provide advice to members of its community “from a medical and Muslim perspective”.

PA