The Philippine Department of Health urged today, Ash Wednesday, to pray at home to avoid contagion of the new coronavirus, after the rapid increase in COVID-19 cases in South Korea is related to a religious service.
The Secretary of Health, Francisco Duque, also asked the clergy to schedule more masses to reduce the crowds in the Philippines, a country with more Catholics in Asia and third in the world, since Catholics represent more than 80% of the population of 106 million population.
"If you have a cough and fever, do not go to Mass, stay home and wear a mask so as not to infect your family," Duque said today in an interview with local radio DZMM.
The Philippine Episcopal Conference also recommended clerics to spray dry ash on the head of the faithful instead of applying wet ash on their foreheads, to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The Philippines, where Catholic celebrations often crowd crowds, wants to avoid what happened in South Korea, which has already become the second largest focus of coronavirus in the world after China, with more than 1,146 confirmed cases.
40% of total infections were registered among the members of the Shincheonji religious sect, with more than 210,000 members, in Gyeongsang Province.
The Philippine government announced today the ban on travel from that province of southeastern South Korea, "with immediate effect", while studying whether it extends the veto to the rest of the country, as it did with China.
"The safety of Filipinos here and outside the Philippines remains our main concern. The welfare of our countrymen is paramount," said presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo.
The Philippines has confirmed three cases of coronavirus within its territory, all Chinese tourists, but 80 Filipinos were infected aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship that completed quarantine off the coast of Japan.
445 Filipinos - the majority of the cruise crew - without symptoms were repatriated yesterday to the Philippines, where they will have to meet another quarantine in the sports city of Clark before returning home.