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Religious organisations implement mix of measures to combat COVID-19

by Samuel Sukhnandan

Most places of worship have reopened with strict guidelines, but Roman Catholic parishes and Hindu temples are encouraging elders to stay away.

Roman Catholic Bishop Francis Alleyne said while many people were anticipating the reopening of churches, a list of requirements had to be put in place given the instructions from the National COVID-19 Task Force.

But the head of the Catholic churches wants the elderly and children to stay at home when all Roman Catholic churches reopen this coming weekend in Guyana. Bishop Francis told News Talk Radio 103.1 FM/Demerara Waves Online on Tuesday that the move is temporary due to the ongoing coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Already churches have erected facilities so that attendees can wash their hands, and they have also moved to mark their benches to ensure that everyone stays six feet apart. “We have also put out our own list of requirements adopted from the task force,” he added.

Further, Bishop Francis revealed that while some communities have started their usual Sunday services, others will join this weekend. Many of these churches are still trying to work out the logistics to facilitate as many persons as possible.

He said, “In some instances, churches plan to put tents outside to deal with a large attendance, while bearing in mind the order to maintain 25 percent capacity. We will be doing the temperature testing, and we will have a few masks to give to our members.”

Active consideration is also being given to having two sessions of worship to avoid turning people away. “We don’t want to do that. We don’t want to turn around people, but we also want to follow the guidelines,” he told this publication.

Meanwhile, the Anglican bishop of Guyana Charles Davidson said that all churches that fall under that denomination will remain closed until August 28, 2020 and the issue will be reviewed in two weeks’ time.

“We will have to prepare our churches for service and gathering. All our churches must have hand washing facilities and that means that we will have to install outside of our church doors, a sink, that will allow our members to wash their hands,” he remarked.

He told News Talk Radio 103.1 FM/Demerara Waves Online that if these churches are to honour the 25 percent capacity, they will have to set up a system where people will have to call the church office, or if there is no church office, someone will be designated to put their names down so that they can attend services.

“That list will be at the church door on Sunday and if your name is not on that list, then you will not be allowed in church. It is alright for us to say church is open and we say we will go to church, but bearing in mind that we keep physical distancing, wear our masks and have certain things we need to put in place.”

Bishop Davidson said specific guidelines for the anglican churches will be decided when he meets with the clergy, wardens and lay ministers this week.

On the other hand, President of Guyana Hindu Dharmic Sabha Dr. Vindhya Persaud said that all mandirs were given the green light to open from August 1 and attendance for all satsangs have now been restricted to 25 percent capacity as expressed in the order.

If there is more than one service in the day, mandirs have been instructed to keep it at a minimum of 45 minutes between each service, to prevent congestion and crowds and allow sanitizing or cleaning. As part of the new guidelines, Dr. Persaud said that mandirs now have to ensure that food is boxed and individually distributed only, and not served in communal style. Also of importance, elderly and other high risk populations can only attend mandirs separately from the congregation at an earlier time.

“Those who are ill or exhibiting flu- like symptoms must not attend. As you prepare for Krishna Janamashtmi, we encourage you to adhere to these guidelines which are based on the Ministry of Health’s Extraordinary Gazette dated July 30th,2020,  in line with the Phase 3 opening,” the hindu organisation head added.

Contact was also made with Director of Education, Central Islamic Organisation of Guyana (CIOG), Mr. Shaikh Moeen-ul-Hack who revealed to News Talk Radio 103.1 FM/Demerara Waves Online that almost all mosques countrywide have been reopened as phase three of the reopening plan was announced.

According to him, most mosques have adopted the guidelines set out by the National COVID-19 Task Force.

He explained one of the pillars of Islam is that muslims pray five times a day. Before those prayers, they are expected to perform a purification ritual called ablution or wudu, requiring that they wash their faces, hands, arms, and feet. This in essence did not require any major changes due to COVID-19 because facilities to do so are available.

Despite this, however, the only challenge facing Muslims is the fact that they can no longer pray “shoulder to shoulder” as is required by that religion. But the CIOG official noted that muslim scholars have exempted this practice, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As it relates to attendance, Mr. Moeen-ul-Hack said that people are still not attending mosques as they did before out of an abundance of caution due to the pandemic.

Asked if there are plans being worked out to address a high turnout, he said a second prayer will be introduced if this happens. “I don’t anticipate that in the near future, but as we move along when the places of worship officially opens to full capacity, then you may start to see increases.”

While places of religious worship were given the green light to open for religious services and gatherings including the conduct of funerals and weddings, beginning on August 1, the curfew from 20:00 hrs (8 P.M) to 6:00 (6 A.M) remains in place until August 15.