Measures put in place to protect worshippers

Medical staff from the Singapore Ambulance Association taking the body temperature of visitors before they entered the Loyang Tua Pek Kong Temple on Feb 7. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR
Medical staff from the Singapore Ambulance Association taking the body temperature of visitors before they entered the Loyang Tua Pek Kong Temple on Feb 7. ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

Religious events and worship 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, Culture, Community and Youth Minister Grace Fu and Education Minister Ong Ye Kung met Buddhist, Taoist, Hindu and Sikh religious leaders yesterday to update them on the coronavirus situation and to provide guidance on precautionary measures.

Many of the religious leaders said they had 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 yesterday.

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 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 set up thermal scanners and additional hand-washing points for the Thaipusam procession earlier this month.

Participants were asked 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 has 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 people 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 has encouraged Muslims attending prayers at mosques to bring their own mats and to avoid shaking hands to minimise contact.

Yesterday, 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.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 18, 2020, with the headline Measures put in place to protect worshippers. Subscribe