SINGAPORE: The Catholic Church in Singapore will suspend mass indefinitely from this weekend in view of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.
In a letter released on Friday (Feb 14), the Archbishop of Singapore Reverend William Goh said that "both weekday and weekend public masses from noon on Saturday will be suspended indefinitely ... until there is greater clarity on the way forward".
The Church is also suspending large public events such as formation sessions, retreats and seminars.
According to the 2015 General Household Survey, there are about 220,000 Catholic residents aged 15 and above in Singapore.
"As Catholics, we need to be responsible in playing our part to contain the spread of this virus by avoiding large gatherings of people," said Archbishop Goh.
But he urged Catholics to follow the broadcast of mass on YouTube or CatholicSG radio.
"The cancellation of masses does not mean that Catholics can excuse themselves from fulfilling the obligation of keeping the Day of the Lord holy," he said.
Wedding and funerals are considered private services and arrangements can be made with the parish priest, he added.
On Friday, MOH announced that one of the coronavirus cases announced on Thursday had previously attended mass at Church of Christ the King, a Catholic parish in Ang Mo Kio.
Some Protestant churches have also stopped services at their physical locations temporarily.
One of Singapore’s largest churches, City Harvest Church, will be playing its services online for the rest of February. The church has about 16,000 congregants, according to its 2018 annual report.
“Our congregation is not small, and we have members young and old,” the church said in a notice on its website.
Grace Assembly of God, where a cluster of 13 confirmed coronavirus cases are linked to, has closed both its branches until Feb 25.
LIVESTREAM EVENTS, SERVICES
Other religious groups have so far turned to livestreaming during the outbreak.
Christian and Buddhist groups have begun to record their services and rituals in light of the COVID-19 outbreak, while the Islamic Religious Council of Singapore (MUIS) has also encouraged mosques to do so for events.
Every Nation Church and Paya Lebar Methodist Church are two of the churches that will broadcast their upcoming Sunday services and mass virtually.
Paya Lebar Methodist Church has been linked to one confirmed case, but church volunteers had already been taking the temperatures of congregants, cleaning the premises more frequently, and keeping a record of their data for contact tracing purposes since MOH first issued its guidelines, said pastor-in-charge Rev Dr Kow Shih Ming.
READ: COVID-19: No plans to close schools yet, says Education Minister Ong Ye Kung; focus is on raising hygiene standards
The Buddha Tooth Relic Temple at Chinatown is livestreaming its ceremonies and group practices on its website, according to a letter it sent out on Feb 12. Rituals and blessings will still be conducted at the temple at the same time.
SERVICES SHOULD CONTINUE
“The Government has said that we shouldn’t be too paranoid,” head of Singapore's Methodist Church Rev Dr Chong Chin Chung told CNA in Mandarin during a visit to Paya Lebar Methodist Church’s kindergarten on Friday.
“The authorities are putting in place ample protective measures, so the congregation shouldn’t be worried if they want to come for Sunday service”.
This sentiment was echoed by the president of the National Council of Churches Bishop Terry Kee.
With cases linked to three churches so far, Bishop Kee said that churches should continue to run their services.
CANCELLING PERIPHERAL SERVICES
Though the various religious groups are continuing to hold their main programmes on-site, they have stopped other activities such as Sunday school and tours.
For example, Masjid Sultan and St Andrew’s Cathedral, which are also tourist attractions, have suspended tours to prevent the risk of the virus spreading.
St Andrew’s Cathedral has also ceased programmes involving young children.
The Singapore Buddhist Federation issued a similar advisory on Feb 7 regarding the suspension of its Sunday school.
BRING YOUR OWN PRAYER ITEMS
Mosques are also doing their part to limit the potential spread of the disease.
Inside Masjid Angullia on Serangoon Road, hand sanitiser stations and packets of plastic sheets were set all around the newly reopened mosque as 2,500 congregants streamed in for Friday prayers.
The mosque is one of the many places of worship throughout Singapore that has put in precautionary measures amid the COVID-19 outbreak, heeding the advice of their respective religious councils.
Since the virus outbreak, MUIS has issued advisories for mosques to follow, telling congregants to avoid shaking hands and to bring their own personal prayer mats, among other suggestions.
“The virus may remain on carpet surfaces if used by a congregant who is infected,” the advisory stated. Using hand sanitisers containing alcohol is allowed as they are for medical treatments, it added.
At Masjid Angullia, congregants can pick up a disposable plastic sheet before they enter the prayer hall to place over the carpet they prostrate on.
However, there were no temperature-taking booths outside the mosque. When asked why they were not taking visitors’ temperature, Minister-in-Charge of Muslim Affairs Masagos Zulkifli said that it was hard to do so logistically, especially for large congregations.
“What we are advising is for them to be responsible so that if you are having a fever or have symptoms like cough or runny nose, stay home,” Mr Masagos, who was there on Friday for the mosque's reopening, said.
“Religiously this is something that is allowed.”
Staff and regular visitors such as students and volunteers will have their temperature taken before they enter a mosque, a MUIS notice said.
In its media statement, the Hindu Endowments Board listed a series of measures its temples have put in place.
These range from cleaning its payment counters and toilets more often, and making sure that they have face masks and sanitisers available.
“Hindu temples are open spaces and well ventilated (and) handwashing is a general routine in Hindu temples,” the statement said.