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Premier John Horgan meets with B.C. faith leaders over coronavirus concerns

COVID-19: preventing spread of disease at religious events
WATCH: COVID-19: preventing spread of disease at religious events

B.C. Premier John Horgan met with religious leaders from across the province on Wednesday in an attempt to deal with questions about the spread of coronavirus.

Horgan, Health Minister Adrian Dix, and Provincial Health Officer Bonnie Henry spoke to more than 100 faith leaders via conference call. Part of the meeting was open to the media.

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Horgan did mention attending the 54th annual prayer breakfast last week with more than 1,000 people.

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“That type of gathering may well not be the most appropriate way for people to share fellowship and to discuss personal and faith issues at this time,” Horgan said.

COVID-19: preventing spread of disease at religious events
COVID-19: preventing spread of disease at religious events

Dr. Henry is recommending a change is the way people gather for religious and faith based events.

The province is suggesting potentially offering alternative worshiping times or virtual services.

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“They need to find ways to make space within their communities to allow for people to stay at home, to look at virtual services, to look at maybe having people come for one service and others come to another so you can keep your distance,” Dr. Henry said.

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The issue of weddings and after life rituals was raised on the phone call. Dr. Henry recommended some traditions be altered to avoid practices like hugging, kissing and sharing food.

“This isn’t forever. This is for now,” Henry said.

“We are asking people to take measures that make it easy for somebody who’s ill not to come and make sure that they can participate in other ways, that we stay connected, particularly to elderly people.”

Impact of COVID-19 pandemic in B.C.
Impact of COVID-19 pandemic in B.C.

The province also suggesting organizers look at increasing spacing where people can sit every second seat.

“It’s really challenging because we’re used to hugging. We’re used to touching. Right now, we need to keep our hands to ourselves, keep our germs to ourselves. Make it okay within our family groups and within our religious and social groups that we do it from a distance right now. We look people in the eyes. We smile in the same way that we have before,” Dr. Henry said.

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Gurdwara Sahib Sukh Sagar in New Westminster has changed some practices to avoid potential exchange of droplets but have not cancelled any prayer services.

“We have put processes in place. Maybe where you have hand to hand contact, or where you have scarfs that are being shared. We have put in process they are washed after each touch,” board member Sukhninder Singh said.

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In the Washington, D.C. area, a priest tested positive for COVID-19 after taking part in three services last Sunday, which were attended by 550 people.

April marks a significant month for many religions. Both Easter and Passover take place next month and include frequent community gatherings.

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“We are trying to take common sense approaches on how we celebrate our holidays,” Jewish Federation of Vancouver CEO Ezra Shanken said.

“Some of the food sharing, the buffets at Synagogues. Those are things we are going to be looking at.”

The province is also closely monitoring Vaisakhi, a religious event in the Hindu and Sikh religions, set for April.

“It’s a little distance away, but the same applies here that we have a risk assessment model that can be applied to every event and we’re hoping that the event organizers in circumstances like that engage with health authorities to make decisions that are in the best interest of all the people that might go, and the whole community,” Dix said.

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Horgan says he hopes to pass on the information he gathered from religious leaders on COVID-19 to other premiers when the first ministers meet in Ottawa later this week.

“I wanted to bring to that table some of the thoughts and reflections you have,” Horgan said.

Yukon Premier Sandy Silver has announced he will not be travelling to the first ministers’ meetings over concerns about the coronavirus.

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“Out of an abundance of caution and after a conversation with the Chief Medical Officer of Health, I will not be attending the First Ministers’ Meeting this week,” Silver tweeted.