Church takes action to combat swine flu

CHURCHES across Essex have been told to ban Holy Water used to make the sign of the cross in a bid to help stop the spread of Swine Flu.

James Hore

CHURCHES across Essex have been told to ban Holy Water used to make the sign of the cross in a bid to help stop the spread of Swine Flu.

The hard-line directive is one of seven measures, including “restraining physical contact”, sent out by the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Right Reverend John Gladwin to congregations across the county.

Although he has stressed it should be “business as normal”, the Church of England has introduced strict guidelines covering pastoral visits and Holy Communion.

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The EADT revealed yesterday how a dedicated swine flu telephone treatment centre is being launched in north Essex and it also emerged an East Anglian doctor had died after contracting the flu.

The practice of using Holy Water from a stoup to make the sign of the cross as a reminder of baptism has now been suspended with churches told not to use them until the pandemic alert is finished.

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Bishop John has also urged special caution when taking Holy Communion to residential homes, warning if anyone has flu-like symptoms that the “priest alone should drink wine from the chalice”

He said: “Congregations may need assurance that in receiving Holy Communion in one kind in no way suggests that they are not receiving the fullness of Christ's presence in the Sacrament.”

He warned priests should only visit someone with Swine Flu if they are close to death and to wear sterile gloves, apron, and face mask.

“It is not our intention at this stage to cause panic, or to exaggerate the seriousness of the situation.

“The measures will assist the churches in providing appropriate support in our congregations and parishes, whilst doing all that we are reasonably able to, to combat the spread of the infection,” he added.

And the Church has warned that greeting people with a kiss, or even a handshake can spread infections.

“Even if no flu-like symptoms are presented, cross-infection can easily be spread by physical contact. Restraint in making physical contact with people will be appreciated,” he added.

The Church's announcement came just three days after an Essex resident became the first British patient without underlying health problems after contracting swine flu.

Nearly 10,000 Britons have been confirmed with swine flu but hundreds of thousands more are thought to have the virus.

The number of cases is now being estimated as the numbers rise too high for individual patients to be swabbed and counted.

The Health Protection Agency (HPA) is monitoring the virus using data from 100 GP practices, sample swabbing on patients and the number of calls to NHS Direct.

The Government has ordered enough swine flu vaccine to cover the entire population, with the first doses arriving next month and half of all doses expected by the end of the year.

A list has been drawn up of people who will gain first access to the vaccine, including health workers and patients with conditions like diabetes and asthma.

The UK has the third highest number of confirmed swine flu cases in the world after Mexico, which has 10,262 cases, and the US, which has at least 33,902.

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