Live music to resume at 16 religious sites, pilot planned for services with up to 250 people

Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong (second from right) with Mr Baljit Singh (right), president of the board of Central Sikh Temple, during a visit to the temple on Sept 26, 2020. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

SINGAPORE - Live music during worship services will resume at 16 religious organisations from Oct 3 as part of the latest round of pandemic restrictions easing.

There will also be a pilot conducted for worship services to have up to 250 people, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Edwin Tong announced on Saturday (Sept 26).

Speaking after a visit to the Central Sikh Temple, Mr Tong said that live music is an "integral part of how one celebrates and practices the faith".

"That's going to be done on a pilot basis across a range of different faiths, and we'll see how that goes and then decide what are the learning points, how we can scale up and then if the situation in Singapore is as it is or improving, then we can move from there," said Mr Tong, who is also Second Minister for Law.

He was providing details of how more religious activities could safely resume following Wednesday's announcement of the further easing of Covid-19 measures.

The organisations involved in the live music pilot were selected after consultations with members of the National Steering Committee on Racial and Religious Harmony, according to the Ministry for Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY).

Under the pilot, up to 10 musicians or singers will be allowed on stage, with a maximum of five people unmasked at any one time. If singing is conducted in an indoor space, then only two can be unmasked.

While all masked individuals have to keep a metre apart, those unmasked have to maintain 2m from each other.

There should also be at least 3m between the singers and the congregation. If the height of a stage places them at a higher vantage point, then an even further safe distance is encouraged.

The congregation has to remain masked during worship services and cannot sing, although they can give spoken responses.

Health Minister Gan Kim Yong had said on Wednesday that from Oct 3 all religious organisations will be allowed to conduct congregational and other worship services for up to 100 people - double the limit for services held by most religious organisations currently.

On Saturday, Mr Tong said that congregational services must be split into two zones of up to 50 people each.

For places with more structured services, such as churches, mosques and gurdwaras, the two zones must be separated by a physical partition or barrier, with separate entrances and exits or staggered entry and exit timings for each zone, explained MCCY.

Places with more transient worship settings - such as Buddhist, Taoist and Hindu temples - should ensure no crowding or bunching of worshippers at common areas and in the prayer halls, no mingling between groups, and safe distancing between worshippers.

The existing caps on other activities will remain, including 30 people for funeral-related activities and 50 for religious classes.

Religious organisations that wish to participate in the pilot to increase crowd limits to 250, can apply from Oct 3, provided that they have first safely and steadily conducted worship services for 100 people.

Mr Tong said that the earlier pilot to raise the quota from 50 to 100 was good and there was no major difficulty in implementing it, so the authorities decided to implement it on a larger scale.

"So still maintaining the distance, but allowing there to be more meaningful interaction and engagement with the members in congregation," said Mr Tong.

He added that some organisations have expressed interest in the 250-capacity pilot. There is no limit in the number of religious organisations that can participate in the pilot. Organisations that apply will be assessed based on the layout of their premises and how they can safely manage crowds, among other considerations.

Mr Baljit Singh, president of the board of Central Sikh Temple which is among the first 16 religious organisations in the live music pilot, welcomed the move as a gradual return to normalcy.

"First and foremost, music is a very integral part of Sikhism, the Sikh way of life itself," he explained.

He said that when the circuit breaker came, the temple shifted to live-streaming of singing, so that worshippers could still listen, but it was nothing like live singing itself.

"We are extremely grateful that we have now reached a stage where we can gradually and in a calibrated manner, bring back live singing, so that again a higher level of normalcy returns," he said.

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