COVID-19 deaths of Serbian clerics highlight virus worries

COVID-19 deaths of Serbian clerics highlight virus worries

As coronavirus cases surge globally, the COVID-19 deaths of two senior Serbian Orthodox Church clerics — one who died weeks after presiding over the funeral of the other — are raising questions about whether some religious institutions are doing enough to slow the spread of the virus.

More reports are emerging about people who attended religious services and contract the virus — some after parishioners seemed to ignore the pleas of church and health officials officials to wear masks, practice social distancing and other steps to combat the virus that’s killed nearly 1.4 million people worldwide.

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In Belgrade, many mourners paying their respects Saturday to Serbian Orthodox Church Patriarch Irinej ignored precautions and some kissed the glass shield covering the patriarch’s body, despite warnings not to do so from Serbia’s epidemiologists.

That scene unfolded three weeks after the 90-year-old Irinej led prayers at the funeral of Bishop Amfilohije in nearby Montenegro, an event attended by thousands where many kissed the bishop’s remains in an open casket.

The highly publicized episodes happened as Serbia reported thousands of newly confirmed infections daily in the country of 7 million and as the government in recent days has tightened measures to hold off the virus. As the country’s health system strains to treat more and more people for the virus, some patients in Belgrade hospitals with less serious conditions are being transferred to hospitals elsewhere.

In the U.S., where the number of new daily cases climbed on Friday to within less than 5,000 of the once unfathomable 200,000 mark, infections were also reported at church gatherings.…

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