The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has announced that they're removing their missionaries from Hong Kong and Macau due to concerns over the coronavirus outbreak.
A flu-like illness, the coronavirus was first detected in China and as of Thursday evening has killed over 600 people and infected more than 31,000, the vast majority in mainland China, according to CBS News.
The largest Mormon denomination in the United States announced earlier this week that it was removing all 125 missionaries from the two Chinese cities, doing so after Hong Kong announced its first confirmed coronavirus-related death.
The LDS Church's Missionary Department has temporarily reassigned 113 of the missionaries to other missions and released from service the other 12, according to Deseret News.
In a statement, the LDS Church explained that the missionaries had taken precautions even before leaving the cities, such as limiting their time outdoors.
“Therefore, the likelihood of any of these missionaries having contracted the coronavirus is very low,” the LDS Church added, according to Deseret News. “Additionally, each missionary is required to show no symptoms before leaving Hong Kong.”
The LDS Church does not have any missionaries working in mainland China, according to a statement released last month when the coronavirus first started getting headlines.
“We are closely monitoring the situation with the coronavirus and are in regular contact with medical professionals and experts on this issue,” they added.
“We are following the recommendations of the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and local authorities throughout the world and are ready to make adjustments as needed.”
Last month, the LDS Church announced that they were sending medical supplies to China to help with the growing outbreak. The delivered equipment included 220,000 respirator masks, over 6,500 pairs of protective coveralls, and 870 pairs of protective goggles.
“I have had associations with the good people of China for decades,” stated LDS Church President Russell Nelson, who once served as a surgeon in the Asian country.
“These are our dear brothers and sisters, and we feel privileged to be able to offer some small measure of help. We pray for them and know God will bless them.”
The coronavirus originated in Wuhan, a city of 11 million in China’s Hubei province, and can lead to respiratory illnesses which are fatal in some cases.
Last week, the World Health Organization declared it a public health emergency, with cases being reported in several countries, including around a dozen in the United States.
“It is readily apparent that we are facing a test of our faith,” declared an unnamed pastor living in Wuhan in a public letter, published by China Source.
“The situation is so critical, yet [we are] trusting in the Lord’s promises, that [H]is thoughts toward us are of peace, and not evil (Jeremiah. 29:11), and that [H]e allows for a time of testing, not to destroy us, but to establish us.”
“Therefore, Christians are not only to suffer with the people of this city, but we have a responsibility to pray for those in this city who are fearful, and to bring to them the peace of Christ,” the pastor added.