The gastro outbreak in Havelock North has seen precautionary measures adopted at Catholic churches throughout the wider Hastings parish. Contaminated water has seen thousands of people affected in the Havelock North community, schools closed for a week and a government inquiry announced.

Deb Lucy, pastoral assistant at the Catholic parish of Hastings, said Communion is only being distributed under one kind, as consecrated hosts, at all the churches in the parish.

The wider Hastings parish includes four churches — Sacred Heart in Hastings East, St Peter Chanel in Hastings West, Our Lady of Lourdes in Havelock North and Immaculate Conception in Pakipaki.

Ms Lucy said that Massgoers are also being asked to acknowledge each other with a nod or similar gesture at the Sign of Peace, rather than shaking hands.

While people can still use holy water to bless themselves, they are also told that they can bow to the altar as they enter church instead.

Ms Lucy said the Mass count in Havelock North may have dipped by 10-15 per cent when the outbreak first struck in mid-August. But numbers have come back to normal since.

She said it was felt that even though water quality is fine in Hastings itself, people could have come from Havelock North to other churches for Masses, so it was necessary to institute precautionary measures in all the churches.

Parishioners have been understanding of the need for these measures, she said.

“People are well aware why it is happening, they are very good with it,” Ms Lucy said.

“They would rather have one kind [at Communion] than putting themselves at risk.”

People are coping well, and are being vigilant about hygiene, Ms Lucy said, with many Hastings residents drinking bottled water.

She said she has not heard of any reports of significant numbers of children being absent from Hastings Catholic schools.

There had been many prayers of the faithful at Masses asking God for healing for the sick and for a resolution to the water quality issues in Havelock North.