Russia's Orthodox Church tells staff to disinfect icons amid virus fears

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia’s Orthodox Church urged worshippers on Tuesday to refrain from the practice of kissing the cross at the end of services and told staff to regularly disinfect religious icons sometimes kissed by churchgoers, as precautions against coronavirus.

Patriarch Kirill approved the array of new sanitary guidelines after the Novaya Gazeta newspaper last week reported hundreds of worshippers in St Petersburg were kissing a relic being wiped down with a cloth despite fears over the new virus.

Russia has reported 114 confirmed cases of the coronavirus. That figure has risen sharply in recent days, although there have been no confirmed deaths.

The new church measures, detailed in an online statement, told staff to regularly wash their hands and disinfect icons, to maintain good ventilation in churches and for priests not to proffer their hands to be kissed.

Staff were also instructed to change water used for baptisms after each individual use and for priests to use disposable gloves when handling bread that is blessed and distributed to worshippers.

“Instead of (holding out) the cross for kissing at the end of the Divine Liturgy and other services, we recommend placing the cross on the heads of parishioners,” it said.

Moscow church officials have said they will keep their doors open to the public, but that they would listen to recommendations from city and health officials, and that parishioners may be checked for symptoms upon arrival in future.

Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by Gareth Jones