Coronavirus: Govt assures religious leaders that events and worship can continue, but with precautions

Muslims attending prayers at mosques have been encouraged to take their own mats, while thermal scanners were set up for the Thaipusam procession earlier this month. Public mass for Roman Catholics here have also been suspended indefinitely. ST PHOTOS: LIM YAOHUI, ARIFFIN JAMAR, ALPHONSUS CHERN

SINGAPORE - The Government has assured Buddhist, Taoist, Sikh and Hindu leaders that religious events and worship at temples can continue despite the coronavirus outbreak, but precautionary measures and enhanced personal hygiene must be observed to reduce risks of transmission.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong; Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu; and Education Minister Ong Ye Kung met these religious leaders on Monday (Feb 17) to update them on the coronavirus situation and to provide guidance on precautionary measures.

Many of the religious leaders shared that they have already put in place several measures to protect worshippers, the Ministry of Health (MOH) and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth said in a joint statement on the same day.

In an advisory on Feb 5, the Singapore Buddhist Federation advised Buddhist temples and followers to reduce or scale down indoor or outdoor religious gatherings and cancel such activities where necessary to reduce the potential spread of the virus.

Since then, the federation has also cancelled religious classes on Sundays and talks, as well as the Thousand-Buddha Dharma Assembly that was originally scheduled for March 1.

The Hindu Endowments Board had also set up thermal scanners and additional hand-washing points for the Thaipusam procession earlier this month.

Participants of the procession were also told to move briskly and not gather in groups, and to leave the temple after completing their vows instead of congregating.

Meanwhile, public mass for Roman Catholics here have been suspended indefinitely from noon since last Saturday, and several large Christian churches have also suspended services.

The National Council of Churches of Singapore said in a letter on its website on Feb 8 that churches here will continue to provide worship services, but advised 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, such as temperature screening, ventilating their premises and having enough hand-washing facilities, as well as more frequent cleaning, the council added.

Two clusters of coronavirus cases in Singapore have been connected to religious groups here - one linked to The Life Church and Missions, and one to the Grace Assembly of God church, the largest cluster here.

The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) has also encouraged Muslims attending prayers at mosques to take their own mats and to avoid shaking hands to minimise contact.

On Monday, the ministers highlighted the role of social responsibility in reducing the risk of transmission and that those who are unwell should consult a doctor immediately and avoid going to religious events or places of worship.

Additional measures such as increasing the frequency of cleaning commonly used areas and minimising sharing of common items, as well as having good ventilation at venues where large events are held, were also shared by MOH.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.