Coronavirus: Places of worship can stay open, groups of 10 or fewer can meet

Religious groups can continue to meet, but only if they abide by guidelines that, among other things, restrict them to 10 or fewer people in a group.
Religious groups can continue to meet, but only if they abide by guidelines that, among other things, restrict them to 10 or fewer people in a group.PHOTO: ST FILE

While all religious congregations and services have been suspended until April 30, places of worship may still remain open to cater to individuals who need help from religious leaders, said National Development Minister Lawrence Wong.

Religious groups can continue to meet, but only if they abide by guidelines that, among other things, restrict them to 10 or fewer people in a group, he said in Parliament yesterday.

Mr Wong was responding to Mr Alex Yam (Marsiling-Yew Tee GRC), who asked about guidelines for major religious festivals taking place over the next two months, including the Qing Ming Festival, Easter and Ramadan, in the light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Yam had also asked about the circumstances under which a complete lockdown of Singapore would be considered.

In response, Mr Wong said that while some may use the word "lockdown" when it comes to the question of whether more drastic measures are required to deal with the coronavirus outbreak, the discussion should focus specifically on the measures that may be implemented and also take into account the reasons for a rise in cases.

"If we continue to see more new cases coming in, and a lot of them are imported cases, and we are able to contain and ring-fence and isolate them, we may not need to trigger additional measures.

"But if we see more local, transmitted cases - particularly unlinked ones - and that continues to rise despite all that we are doing with strict safe distancing measures, then we may well need to activate the next set of brakes in order to slow down the spread of the virus," he said. Such measures may include suspending schools and closing workplaces that provide non-essential services, he added.

In response to Nominated MPs Anthea Ong and Mohamed Irshad, who had called for safe distancing measures to be implemented on public transport, Mr Wong acknowledged that such measures are important.

But the issue of commuter load on public transport, particularly during peak hours, cannot be looked at in isolation, he said. Companies, too, play an important role in bringing down the sheer volume of commuters.

"If the numbers (of people who commute) are still high, having safe distancing within a train or bus will mean the queue goes up somewhere else. It will be at the bus stop, it will be outside the train station," he said.

Employers need to get as many of their staff as possible to work from home and put in place staggered hours for those who need to go to the office, he said. The Government is reaching out to employers to get them to step up and do more, he added, and will look at ways to improve engagement efforts.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2020, with the headline 'Places of worship can stay open, groups of 10 or fewer can meet'. Print Edition | Subscribe