Religious services to resume on certain conditions | 15 May 2020
Regular religious services are set to resume on May 23, on condition that certain guidelines drawn up by representatives of numerous faith-based organisations and officials from the department of health are adhered to.
Details of the new guidelines and measures for religious services for the next three months were yesterday announced by Dr Anne Gabriel, senior nurse manager at the Seychelles Hospital, John Dubel, public health sanitation officer Myra Bijoux, as well as representatives of different faith-based organisations including Reverend Christine Benoit of the Anglican Diocese, Sister Alice Vivien of the Roman Catholic Diocese, Imam Abdulrahman Hinika of the Seychelles Islamic Society and Pastor Robert Moumou, representing the Seychelles Evangelical Alliance.
Dr Gabriel commenced by noting the establishment of a committee, comprising five representatives of faith-based organisations as well as five officials of the department to devise provisions of the guide, in line with the ‘new normal’, to which the whole world is adjusting as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to wreak havoc. The committee met for the first time on April 27 and together analysed the practices that could potentially put believers at risk of contracting the virus if there is ever a second wave, before eventually finalising the measures.
As of May 23, regular weekend services which are usually attended by larger congregations will be allowed to resume on condition that the religious institution has satisfied certain criteria, based on the three guiding principles of hyper vigilance, social distancing and hygiene.
Dr Gabriel went on to note that the guide will be reviewed in three months, and unless the guidelines are adhered to, the decision to suspend all religious services is still possible.
For the time being, funerals are still limited to 50 persons and family members of the deceased are being asked not to provide bus services, so as to reduce the number of people in attendance and to better maintain social distancing.
Other services including Holy Communion, confirmation and others such as weddings are also being deferred to July, as these tend to be celebrated through large parties which are currently being discouraged, Dr Gabriel stated.
It must be noted that not all religious institutions will open the weekend of May 23 as some need to introduce measures and make adaptations to their facilities, in line with the guide.
“Emphasis is on maintaining hygiene at all times. The guide comprises a list of criteria that needs to be observed each time there is to be a religious service. We are asking that there is surveillance prior to services, ushers present for a process to check if anyone is displaying any possible symptoms. They must ensure hand washing facilities, because as we know hand-washing is one of the ways to protect from the virus,” said Dr Gabriel.
As for public health sanitation officer Myra Bijoux, she said: “Places need to also take into account that the virus can be transmitted from hard surfaces, so prior and after services, the place will need to be disinfected and they will be educated as to how to properly do so, and how often they need to do so, so the level of hygiene is maintained at all times.”
To resume services, facilities are being inspected by public health officials and advised as to how to adapt the guide to their specific context.
To facilitate social distancing, denominations are being encouraged to nominate a focal person as well as a team to manage and oversee the measures are being adhered to, and to act as ushers for the screening-like process before they are admitted to service.
Distribution of leaflets and other materials which are commonly-used such as religious books are also being discouraged, as well as offerings which are passed around from person to person. A facility for persons displaying symptoms of the virus is also a provision of the guide.
“Faith organisations are being encouraged to use new innovative ways such as projecting power point presentations instead of distributing books and leaflets and to maybe continue hosting online meetings for some persons who are not being encouraged to attend services,” said senior nurse manager at the Seychelles Hospital John Dubel.
Senior citizens and persons with underlying health problems who are more at risk of catching the virus, are being encouraged to stay home and not attend services for the time being.
Reverend Benoit urged believers to adhere to the advisories and guidelines and maintain social distancing at all times, cautioning that this is not the time to take things lightly.
“We can still be in contact with each other, but still keeping in mind that we need to observe the physical distance. God promises to protect us but we also have our role to play and maintain that distance goes a long way. Imagine someone from the congregation starts showing symptoms, if the physical distancing is not observed, there is a possibility that the whole congregation is sick as well,” she said.
As such, practices requiring physical contact such as the symbolic peace handshake and others where congregations share food together are suspended.
On account that social distancing will be maintained in facilities and demarcations made in them, some services will be multiplied to allow all believers an opportunity to quench the spiritual thirst of every believer.
Smaller weekday services have been allowed to resume as of May 4, when the prohibition on movement order was lifted.
The Islamic Society however, has decided to keep mosques closed until further notice, while they adapt the guidelines and finalise standard operating procedures for mosques. Asides from demarcations on mosque floors, the society will also introduce screening facilities and mandatory Wudhu, the Islamic ritual washing on site.
Eid celebrations, which are eight days away, on May 23, will also not be held this year as the celebrations gather large crowds, usually exceeding 1,500 persons.
Other services held in district administration centres are also suspended until further notice.
Photos: Thomas Meriton