LDS Church transfers missionaries out of Hong Kong due to coronavirus concerns

(AP Photo/Vincent Yu) People wear protective face masks as they make purchases from a convenience store in Hong Kong, Monday, Feb, 3, 2020. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam in a Monday press conference says the city will shut almost all land and sea border control points to the mainland from midnight to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus from China.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said Tuesday night it will transfer 113 missionaries out of its Hong Kong Mission because working conditions have become difficult with the coronavirus outbreak.

The missionaries in Hong Kong and Macau will be reassigned to other missions elsewhere in the world or, if they are near the end of their service time, will be released, according to a church news release. Most of the reassigned missionaries will be allowed to go home, too, before being deployed to a new location.

The release specified all the missionaries returning home will follow the guidelines from the World Health Organization: They will isolate themselves for 14 days and undergo a quarantine if required by their home countries.

After the isolation or quarantine, if the missionaries show no signs of coronavirus, they will depart for their new assignments.

Church spokesman Daniel Woodruff said no missionaries have tested positive for the virus. According to Tuesday’s release, for several days before leaving Hong Kong, missionaries have remained in their apartments as much as possible, not engaged in teaching, worn masks and frequently washed their hands.

“Therefore, the likelihood of any of these missionaries having contracted the coronavirus is very low,” the release states. “Additionally, each missionary is required to show no symptoms before leaving Hong Kong.”

(Mike Stack | for The Salt Lake Tribune) In this file photo, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saint sister missionaries (far right) wait for train in central Hong Kong.

The release did not specify how many of the 113 missionaries are from Utah. There have been no confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the Beehive State. The Utah Department of Health is monitoring for any outbreak.

In the meantime, the department is asking no one travel to China. The department has also told residents to take standard protections against germs: Avoid contact with others if you are sick and to avoid sick people, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or sleeve when coughing or sneezing and to wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or to use hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.

There are also 12 missionaries from Hong Kong who will be released from service “until the situation has stabilized,” according to the LDS Church release.

“While the church does not conduct missionary work in mainland China,” Woodruff wrote in a separate news release, “there are more than 67,000 missionaries serving around the world and their health and safety is our top priority.”