Non-Muslim places of worship in Malaysia's green zones to reopen under strict health protocols

Non-Muslim places of worship in Malaysia's green zones to reopen under strict health protocols

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A Buddhist temple in Malaysia. (File photo: Bernama)

KUALA LUMPUR: A total of 174 non-Muslim places of worship in green zones will be allowed to open on selected days starting Jun 10, said Malaysian Senior Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob.

In a press conference on Thursday (May 21), he said the decision was made after Minister of National Unity Halimah Mohamed Sadique met with the heads of organisations representing various religious groups.

“They met earlier today and agreed that these places of worship would be allowed to operate under strict standard operating procedures (SOPs).

“This includes only allowing up to 30 worshippers at a time, but that would also depend on the size of the premise. If it is too small for 30 people, then the respective management should ensure a more appropriate number,” the senior minister said.

READ: Islam's holiest sites emptied by coronavirus crisis as Ramadan begins

Mr Ismail Sabri said in addition to implementing SOPs such as compulsory use of hand sanitiser and face masks, worshippers above the age of 70 and below the age of 12 will not be allowed to enter, as they are in the high risk group.

“Besides that, these premises will only be open to Malaysians. Other nationalities will not be allowed to enter the temples or churches. 

“It must also be noted that these premises will only be allowed to open on important days. For example, Sundays for churches. There will be similar important days for the Hindu and Buddhist communities as well. We will only allow one or two days in a week for these places to operate,” he said.

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A sign at a church in Malaysia notifies worshippers that there is no mass held that day. (Photo: Bernama)
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Out of the 174 places of worship, 84 are Hindu temples, 67 are churches, 15 are Buddhist temples and eight are Gurdwaras.

The senior minister stressed that events like weddings will still not be allowed in these places of worship. Officers from the Ministry of National Unity have been appointed to oversee the operations of these places of worship.

“Please note that should the SOPs be defied, the permission to operate can be withdrawn,” he warned.

To date, a total of 126 districts have been declared as green zones. There are now seven red zones.

Last week, the government announced that all mosques and certain surau in the federal territory will be able to conduct Friday prayers starting May 15. Additionally, daily Tarawih prayers and Hari Raya prayers will also be allowed, subject to strict SOPs.

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A Hindu temple in Malaysia. (File photo: Bernama)

NO MORE INTERSTATE TRAVEL.

Separately, following the failure of Malaysians to avoid interstate travel unless absolutely necessary, Mr Ismail Sabri said the government has decided to ban interstate travel altogether.

He noted at the Thursday press conference that there has been increased traffic on the roads despite requests by the government for people to avoid returning to their hometowns for the Hari Raya season.

“Yesterday (May 20), the police department had 149 interstate roadblocks nationwide. A total of 271,646 vehicles were checked and 2,412 vehicles that tried to cross state borders were told to turn back as their reason for travel was to return to their hometowns."

Police officers check vehicles at a roadblock to enforce movement control order due to the spread o
Police officers check vehicles at a roadblock to enforce movement control order due to the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

Earlier, the government announced that those who needed to make interstate travel during this period would need to get approval from the police department.

READ: Malaysia may again tighten COVID-19 restrictions after May 18 if cases surge, says health ministry

Asked if the travel ban would apply to those who have already obtained approval from the police but have yet to hit the road, the senior minister replied that approval was only given for cases of extreme emergency. 

“There would not have been cases of someone getting approval to travel but only in three days' time. It is for immediate travel, so this problem would not arise.

“But you can see the lack of Malaysian compliance by looking at the 1,300 who lined up at the Kuantan police station to get approval. They can’t all be going to another state for an emergency like the death of a family member. This is just Malaysians trying their luck to see if they get away with it,” he said.

He was referring to a long line of people outside the Kuantan district police station to get permission for interstate travel.

Police officers wearing protective masks show a placard to a driver at a roadblock to enforce movem
Police officers wearing protective masks show a placard to a driver at a roadblock set up to enforce movement control order due to the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia March 23, 2020. REUTERS/Lim Huey Teng

Mr Ismail Sabri told Malaysians to be more considerate and not travel to their hometowns as they could risk the lives of others.

He then cited a case of a pregnant woman from Ampang who had travelled to Kelantan and was later tested positive when screened at her hometown.

“By the time she was screened, she had already made contact with so many people ... Now although that place is not under lockdown, the community will need to undergo screening due to the actions of one person.”

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Source: CNA/kd(aw)

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