Worshippers at Sunday Mass this weekend in the Diocese of Down and Connor dispensed with the sign of peace in an effort to help stop the spread of so-called ‘Australian flu’.
The flu has seen thousands struck down across Ireland and the UK, with health authorities in both countries publishing advice on how to limit your exposure to the virus, and the Catholic Church in the diocese – which includes Belfast – made the change in order to do their bit.
In addition to suspending the traditional handshake while the virus is so widespread, the diocese also advised priests and Eucharistic minsters to disinfect their hands before distributing Holy Communion.
Fr Martin Magill, who serves as parish priest of St John’s Church in Belfast, said he believed Catholics in the diocese would understand the need to be cautious about the spread of the virus.
“I think all of us are aware of the huge amount of pressure that our hospitals are under at this stage and so this idea of doing something that will make a difference,” he said.
“It’s precautionary more than anything else.”
The Diocese of Down and Connor said its precautions are based on medical advice, with a similar decision having taken in the UK during the 2009 swine flu epidemic.