Coronavirus concerns see Catholics push changes to holy communion

Catholics taking part in church services across Australia this weekend could see their traditions of worship changed due to the Covid-19 coronavirus.

The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has urged a number of measures to reduce transmission of the virus, including stopping communion being distributed from the chalice and the removal of holy water from stoups.

In a statement, the conference said dioceses and parishes should consider the changes "given the regular assembly of large groups for liturgical celebrations and a number of enquiries from dioceses, parishes and individuals".

It said churchgoers should consider their own health "including any potential to infect others with a contagious disease" before attending services.

"Holy water should be temporarily removed from stoups at the doors of churches to reduce the possibility of transmission of the virus," the statement said.

"When exchanging the sign of peace, individuals should avoid shaking hands but offer a smile, wave, nod or bow.

"Parishes should cease distributing holy communion from the chalice until further notice."

There was also a recommendation that the communion wafer be given in the hand "because of the high risk of transmission if people continue to receive on the tongue".

In South Australia, the Archdiocese of Adelaide has asked that the measures be implemented by Sunday.

Penola parish priest Michael Romeo said one of the protocols priests had been asked to observe was proving more difficult than others to put into practice.

"We've been asked to put alcohol-based gels or rubs available at the entrance of our churches, but that's proving a little difficult because they're not available at shops at the moment," he said.