SINGAPORE - Some of Singapore's biggest religious institutions are cancelling or suspending activities, following a string of coronavirus cases linked to three churches to date.
Mega-church City Harvest Church (CHC), which has 16,000 congregants, will not be holding its services at its regular venue in a Suntec Singapore Convention and Exhibition Centre auditorium, and will instead be streaming them online.
In a Facebook post as well as in a letter to its congregants on Thursday (Feb 13), CHC said that till the end of the month, its weekend services will be streamed online via its website or its mobile application.
"In view of the increasing number of cases of Covid-19 this past week, we have decided the best thing for our congregation is to bring service online," said the CHC letter seen by The Straits Times, and referring to the disease caused by the coronavirus.
"This means, we do NOT meet physically at Suntec for service, but stay home and worship online together through the CHC app or our website."
This comes after some places of worship here have been found to be linked to cases of the coronavirus.
Starting Wednesday, the Grace Assembly of God church stopped all services and activities for two weeks, after it was reported that two of its employees had contracted the coronavirus. Another five cases were linked to the church on Thursday, making it seven cases there in total.
It is the third church affected by the outbreak. A 71-year-old Singaporean visited Paya Lebar Methodist Church before he was sent to the hospital for the virus, while a couple from Wuhan and three Singaporeans have been linked to The Life Church and Missions Singapore in Paya Lebar.
Some religious groups have made the decision to cancel all religious activities.
In a Facebook post on Wednesday, the Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery in Sin Ming said that it has suspended all events, classes and group chanting for the rest of the month.
Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery in Sin Ming said it has suspended all events, classes and group chanting for the rest of the month.
An advisory from The Singapore Buddhist Federation sent on Feb 5 advised Buddhist temples here to try to reduce or scale down religious gathering, and when necessary cancel such activities.
In a letter on its website published on Feb 8, the National Council of Churches of Singapore (NCCS) said that churches here will continue to provide worship service, but requested that those who are unwell to stay home, as they would be denied entry.
Churches here will also be introducing control measures to curb the spread of the coronavirus, like carrying out temperature screening, ensuring their premises are ventilated and adequately equipped with hand-washing facilities, as well as increasing the frequency of their cleaning.
For instance, Faith Community Baptist Church has temporarily suspended services catered to vulnerable groups such as children, elderly and youth, and postponed activities such as overseas trips and camps.
Cornerstone Community Church has cancelled or postponed internal meetings that involve more than 50 people.
New Creation Church, one of the largest churches here with an average Sunday attendance of more than 33,000, said it has deployed thermal scanners similar to those used at Changi Airport and hospitals since the end of January.
Central Christian Church’s two Sunday services have been scaled down into services at “house churches”. Each house church varies from 10 to 30 attendees, and takes place outdoors or at the homes of church members.
The church’s lead evangelist Phua Hee said: “We’ve adopted these stringent precautions because there are many families with young children in our church, as well as a few elderly. We have to take care of them and watch out for their safety.”
The Methodist Church in Singapore said church services will proceed with enhanced measures such as temperature-taking and getting the contact details of everyone who enters the church premises.
The Presbyterian Church in Singapore said advisories have been sent to all 37 Presbyterian churches here during the past two weeks, advising them to have holy communion servers wear surgical face masks and disposable gloves, among other measures.
“All large group gatherings are cancelled except for the worship service. We are seriously considering the suspension of worship services if the situation gets worse,” it added.
Similarly, a spokesman for the Hindu Endowments Board told ST that Hindu temples have also installed preventive measures to mitigate the risk of coronavirus infection.
Besides increasing the frequency of cleaning common areas and daily temperature checks for staff and visitors, these temples also provide face masks and sanitisers, which are readily available to anyone who may need them, added the spokesman.
The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) said last week that mosques can continue with their religious programmes with confidence, as they have stepped up safety measures.
Muis also encouraged worshippers to bring their own personal prayer items, like prayer mats and beads.
Earlier this month, the mufti Ustaz Mohamed Fatris Bakaram, 49, urged Muslims here to do their best to continue life as normal, while remaining socially responsible about their health and hygiene.
Dr Fatris, who is Singapore's highest Islamic authority, said in Malay: "Let us enhance our civic responsibility and our care towards ourselves and towards the people around us. Avoid being in crowds unnecessarily, especially when we are unwell."