SALT LAKE CITY — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is transferring or releasing all 125 of its missionaries out of Hong Kong and Macau due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Hong Kong today reported its first death due to coronavirus. Two planes carrying American evacuees have left China Tuesday evening, U.S. time, the State Department said. Other nations are urging their citizens to leave that country.
The church’s Missionary Department will reassign 113 missionaries temporarily from the China Hong Kong Mission to other missions, sending home those who were close to completing their service.
The church will send home an additional 12 missionaries who are Hong Kong natives. They will be released from service until the danger from the virus passes, according to a release issued Tuesday evening.
The church’s statement said missionary work was growing increasingly difficult due to the outbreak, which has killed at least 490 people in China, according to the New York Times. The total number of confirmed cases there is 24,342.
The church does not conduct missionary work in mainland China, according to a statement issued last week.
The missionaries had taken precautions. Those included staying in their apartments as much as possible. They also stopped teaching and followed preventive health practices, including frequent hand washing.
“Therefore, the likelihood of any of these missionaries having contracted the coronavirus is very low,” the church statement said. “Additionally, each missionary is required to show no symptoms before leaving Hong Kong.”
Most of the missionaries will return home before their transfer to self-isolate for 14 days, following guidelines issued by The World Health Organization. Depending on their home countries’ policies, some may face mandated quarantines at a government facility.
If they develop no symptoms, they will return to service in their new temporary assignments.
The coronavirus is more contagious than SARS or the bird flu, which were deadlier. Experts said over the weekend the outbreak is likely to become a pandemic, which means that it becomes an epidemic on at least two continents.
China used 7,000 workers to construct a 1,000-bed hospital in 10 days to isolate coronavirus patients. A second hospital, with 1,500 beds, is under construction and expected to open in days.
The fact that the first U.S. patient to contract the virus — he fell ill after a visit to China — has been released from a hospital in the state of Washington is trending news online tonight, according to Google News.
There are 11 confirmed cases in the United States.
The church has 67,000 missionaries serving in nearly all of the world’s countries. Spokesman Daniel Woodruff released a statement last week saying the church is taking precautions to protect them.
“Information is being distributed to mission leaders and missionaries that will help them take steps to protect themselves against respiratory illness,” he said. “As they communicate weekly, parents should encourage their missionaries to follow standard practices to stay healthy and protect against illness.
On Tuesday night, the church said it also is caring for members, employees and personnel in Hong Kong and other areas affected by the coronavirus.
“We sincerely pray for all those who are dealing with this virus as well as those who live in places where it is impacting their daily lives,” the statement said. “The church will continue to follow developments closely and make any further adjustments as needed.”
The church last week provided supplies to help with the medical response to the virus.