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Church discourages international members from traveling to April general conference out of ‘abundance of caution’ over coronavirus

FILE — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Church Office Building in Salt Lake City is pictured on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Church Office Building in Salt Lake City is pictured on Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020.
Steve Griffin, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints announced Thursday that it has canceled the leadership session of its April general conference and said that “members of the church living outside the United States are discouraged from traveling to the United States to attend the general conference sessions.”

The decisions are based on the continued spread of the coronavirus COVID-19. Cases are now reported in 48 countries.

“General authorities serving outside of the United States and all area seventies are excused from attending the general conference in Salt Lake City,” a news release said.

Church leaders had been scheduled to hold leadership sessions for general authorities, area seventies and general officers of the church on April 2-3.

The other sessions of conference are still scheduled on April 4-5.

“Out of an abundance of caution and with deep concern for global health considerations, as well as sympathy for all who have been or may be affected by the COVID-19 virus, we are postponing leadership meetings associated with the upcoming general conference,” the First Presidency said in a prepared statement. “We wish to be good global citizens and do what we can to limit the spread of this disease. We also want to relieve concerns of our leaders, members and their families related to the uncertainties of travel at this time.”

The church previously announced the closures of the Seoul Korea Temple and Taipei Taiwan Temple. At the same time, it said it had ended or limited missionary work temporarily in six missions that cover nine countries — Cambodia, Hong Kong, Laos, Malaysia, Mongolia, Myanmar, Singapore, South Korea and Thailand.

At the same time, the church said it had canceled weekly worship services in some areas.

The Hong Kong Temple closed in July for a three-year renovation.

Earlier this month, the church transferred or released all 125 of its missionaries serving in Hong Kong due to the coronavirus outbreak. Those being transferred have finished 14 days in quarantine and have begun to arrive at their new assignments. Some have been moved to the United States.

They are expected to return to their original missions when the crisis abates. It is unclear when that might happen, even as the United States begins human trials on a drug to treat coronavirus, according to CNN.

Stock markets have reeled for most of the week over concerns the virus will disrupt international business. U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday assigned Vice President Mike Pence to oversee the American response.

Those losses were driven by concerns voiced by American companies. For example Apple warned of potential iPhone shortages, according to CNN. The travel industry also saw stocks soften. United Airlines, which has canceled flights to China, said demand for flights there has disappeared.

The World Health Organization said Wednesday that more new coronavirus infections are being reported outside China than inside that country of origin for an illness that now has killed nearly 3,000 people among 82,600 total cases, according to the New York Times.

As South Korea has become the country with the second-largest outbreak, new cases have emerged in Brazil, Austria, Croatia, France, Germany, Greece and Spain. Italy and Iran remain budding hot spots.

Meanwhile, an outbreak is to be expected in the United States, American health officials said. The Boston Red Sox quarantined one of the team’s Taiwanese prospects after his arrival in the States last week, according to the Boston Globe.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control has issued travel warnings on a three-level system. Level 3 is the most severe and now includes China and South Korea as countries where all nonessential travel is discouraged, according to the Wall Street Journal. Italy, Iran and Japan are now at Level 2 for enhanced travel precaution.

Level 1 is for countries put on watch. For now only Hong Kong is listed, but Singapore, Thailand, Taiwan and Vietnam are noted as countries with “apparent community spread.”

As the Deseret News reported last week, the coronavirus is new and deadly, but other strains of the flu are also causing illness and death this winter.

The 2019-20 flu season in the United States alone has seen 26 million cases of flu-like symptoms, 250,000 hospitalizations and more than 14,000 deaths, according to estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as reported Friday by U.S. News & World Report.

Those numbers are typical to recent flu seasons, the CDC reported. The percentage of deaths remains about half a percentage point below the epidemic threshold of 7.3%.