US Mormon Church

The LDS temple in Salt Lake City.

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has announced it will transfer or release all of its missionaries out of two Chinese cities amid concerns over a new virus that originated in the country.

There are 125 missionaries combined in Hong Kong and Macau, The Deseret News reported Tuesday.

The church's Missionary Department would temporarily reassign 113 missionaries from the China Hong Kong Mission to other missions, sending home those who were close to completing their service, officials said.

An additional 12 missionaries, who are Hong Kong natives, will be released from service until the danger from the virus passes, church officials said.

The Tuesday announcement came before Hong Kong reported its first death Wednesday because of the virus.

The outbreak has killed 490 people in China and infected more than 24,500 people globally.

Missionaries have taken precautions including staying indoors and frequently washing their hands, church officials said.

“Therefore, the likelihood of any of these missionaries having contracted the coronavirus is very low,” church officials said in a statement. “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, health officials said. Depending on their home countries’ policies, some may face mandated quarantines at a government facility, officials said.

The church has 67,000 missionaries serving in nearly all of the world’s countries, spokesman Daniel Woodruff said, reiterating that 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."