SINGAPORE - Twelve religious organisations, including mosques, Hindu temples, churches, Buddhist temples, and gurdwaras, will be allowed to hold gatherings of up to 100 people from Friday (Aug 7), as the Government eased some Covid-19 rules on Monday.
This will apply only to congregational and worship services, and is double the number of people these organisations are currently allowed to host at any one time.
The new move will result in new safe distancing measures, including the use of two separate zones of up to 50 people each, at some of these places where seated or more structured services are held, the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) said.
These zones will have to be separated by a physical partition or barrier, and must have separate entrances and exits or staggered entry and exit timings.
Buddhist, Taoist and Hindu temples which have less structured worship proceedings will still have to make sure no crowding of worshippers occur.
The 12 sites were identified by the ministry as part of a pilot test, in consultation with religious leaders who are members of the National Steering Committee on Racial and Religious Harmony.
They are: Masjid Assyafaah, Masjid Mujahidin, Masjid Al-Istighfar, Masjid Al-Iman for Friday prayers; Sri Mariamman Temple on Fridays only and Sri Srinivasa Perumal Temple on Saturdays only; St Andrew's Cathedral, Jurong Christian Church, Amazing Grace Presbyterian Church and Sengkang Methodist Church on Saturdays and Sundays only; Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery on weekends only; and Central Sikh Temple on weekends only.
MCCY said that the selected sites have proven to be able to safely conduct congregational and other worship services for up to 50 people under phase two guidelines implemented to tackle the coronavirus.
Since June 26, religious sites have adhered to a range of measures that have allowed activities to carry on but in an altered or muted form, such as requiring congregants to wear a face mask at all times and not allowing singing and live performances.
Before that, religious activities largely took place virtually, with no congregational services allowed during the two-month circuit breaker period that began in early April, and during phase one of Singapore’s reopening in the first two weeks of June.
MCCY said phase two guidelines will remain in place at these 12 selected places of worship, which must submit their updated safe management plans to the ministry at least three days before hosting their first sessions.
MCCY said how well these organisations implement a safe environment for worshippers will determine whether the ministry expands the initiative to cover other sites.
The Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (Muis) on Monday also said the trial is a test of readiness of mosques and congregants to perform Friday prayers in large numbers, and said that it will look to extend the pilot beyond the four selected mosques in future.
The four mosques in MCCY’s pilot will each implement the ministry’s dual zones for congregants, which will open up 600 more places for the three prayer sessions this Friday.
Muis added that the 65 mosques here have successfully implemented safe distancing measures since Friday prayers were allowed to resume for small numbers of people on June 26.
“Congregants have adapted well to new norms and behaved in a cooperative and responsible manner. Although there have been visits by asymptomatic individuals to a few mosques, there have not been cases of infection or clusters linked to mosques so far,” it said.
Last Friday, mosques hosted a total of 17,860 congregants for both Hari Raya prayers and the usual Friday prayers.
Mr Terry Wong, vicar of St Andrew’s Cathedral, said the increase of 50 worshippers per session “may not make a big difference but is a right step in the direction of trying to find a ‘new normal’”.
He said he understood the MCCY’s cautious approach and will likely provide the additional 50 spots to congregants on a first-come first-served basis.
“We are hoping that with the effective implementation of safety measures, all churches and religious places will find the right balance for the coming months,” he said.
In response to MCCY’s announcement, a Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery spokesman said the monastery may increase the enforcement of safe distancing through its safe distancing ambassadors, who have been patrolling to keep visitors in line.
The ministry’s pilot programme means that more visiting slots can be made available for devotees to book online. Slots before the increase were already snapped up very quickly, particularly for weekends.
“We are currently working on the safe management plans for the increased number of visitors... This increase will allow more devotees to visit the monastery for spiritual relief during this difficult period,” he said.