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COVID-19: Exploring Faith Dimensions
Deja Vu: Superspreader Festivals and Increasing Prevention Measures

In India, the beginning of a season of festivals is starting to worry health officials as, if there is a repeat of last year, ritual gatherings could act as superspreader events. On January 14 worshippers gathered to bathe in the Ganges River for the Makar Sankranti festival, with about 3 million expected attendees. Officials used drones to spray water from the Ganges onto worshippers as one way to try to prevent crowding on the banks of the river itself. The Magh Mela festival in Prayagraj city in Uttar Pradesh is also starting. While tens of thousands are expected, authorities are trying to implement testing, requiring vaccine cards for attendance, and placing billboards around venues to encourage masking. Health professionals are voicing concerns about the events, but authorities have so far made no indication that they will be canceled. 
A blog post from Dr. David Robertson posted by the London School of Economics unpicks the intricacies of COVID-19 conspiracies and religions. Robertson argues that religious beliefs and conspiracies are complex and changing - we should not be tempted to always lump certain religious beliefs together with certain conspiracy theories because people’s religious beliefs and practices are context-specific and part of their social interactions. 
Spirituality and mental health is emerging as a major topic of academic research around religions and COVID-19. A new article in the journal Frontiers in Psychology looks at “the relationship among fear, spirituality, and mental health on COVID-19 among adults in Malaysia.” The findings of this small study of 280 adults indicated that a higher level of spirituality was tied to a lower level of fear and mental health issues during the pandemic. 

With omicron cases still surging in countries around the world, new guidelines are emerging from religious institutions to try to curb COVID-19 spread. The Vatican has tightened its prevention measures by making N95 masks, vaccines, and boosters compulsory for visitors and staff inside Vatican buildings. The Italian Catholic Bishops Conference has also put out new guidelines. Vaccinations are not required to enter churches in general, but there are increased measures around vaccination and masking requirements for clergy, some laity, and university staff.
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