Playing it safe despite green light

PETALING JAYA: Although the green light has been given for non-Muslim places of worship in green zones to reopen from June 10 onwards, many are still opting to play it safe.

Council of Churches of Malaysia (CCM) general secretary Rev Dr Hermen Shastri said the churches under its aegis would remain closed until it is deemed safe to re-open without risking public health.

“The heads of churches of our council have decided to continue to keep churches closed until the movement control order (MCO) is lifted and there is assurance from the Health Ministry that Covid-19 no longer poses a threat to the general public.

“Whether the (date of reopening) will be June 10 will be reviewed judiciously when the time comes.

“We seek to prioritise the safety of our people as our paramount spiritual duty. The current situation is still very precarious and volatile, ” he said.

He said online streaming of church services on Sundays would continue and strict guidelines would be issued if churches were to reopen later.

These include sanitising church premises, prohibiting physical contact, registering attendees, wearing masks and social distancing.

CCM is one of three constituent groups of the Christian Federation of Malaysia, along with the Catholic Church and the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship.

Buddhist Maha Vihara vice-president Prematilaka Serisena said the temple would not reopen until the MCO is lifted.

“We are afraid that if we open, folk from red and yellow zones will come to our temple.

“We will decide after June 9 to see how we can ease the restrictions, ” he said.

Young Buddhist Association of Malaysia president Tan King Leong said it was good that the authorities were providing clear-cut guidelines for houses of worship.

“Now we are able to get ready and prepare, instead of having to wait until June when we do reopen, ” he said.

“Buddhist devotees do not normally congregate at temples or have set times for prayer and worship, unlike Muslims or Christians.

“We don’t normally have a set day to go to the temple as devotees can come whenever they like. But now with the guidelines, we will inform our temples to allocate one or two days to open, ” he said.

He said temples would still have to apply to the authorities to get approval to have their premises reopened.

The Star also reached out to representatives of Malaysia Hindu Sangam and the Malaysian Gurdwaras Council, but they had yet to respond at press time.

Yesterday, Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced that non-Muslim houses of worship in green zones nationwide would be allowed to reopen starting June 10.Entry will be limited to a maximum of 30 people in the premises at any one time, while children below 12 and senior citizens above 70 are not allowed to enter.

“There will be no more than 30 people but the size of the house of worship must also be considered – if it is small, then it has to be fewer than 30 people.

“The houses of worship are also only allowed to be open on important days according to the respective religions, just one or two days a week, ” he said in his daily briefing in Putrajaya.

For example, he said Christians could attend church on Sundays while Buddhists and Hindus could go to their temples according to the important days in their religion.

Congregants must adhere to standard operating procedure (SOP) such as undergoing body temperature screening, wearing face masks and using hand sanitisers.

Weddings are still not allowed at this point.

Ismail Sabri said officers from the National Unity Ministry, including the National Unity and Integration Department, had been appointed as monitors.

“Permission to operate will be rescinded if the premises fail to follow the SOP, ” he said.

So far, 174 non-Muslim houses of worship – 99 temples, 67 churches and eight gurdwaras – have obtained permission to operate.

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