ACS has submitted SOP draft for reopening churches, but advocates caution

Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kuching Simon Poh

KUCHING, May 17: The Association of Churches in Sarawak (ACS) believes that there is no rush to reopen churches in Sarawak for Sunday services in the near future.

Its chairman Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kuching Simon Poh asserted that the Covid-19 situation in Sarawak needs to be studied carefully first before churches are allowed to reopen, to prevent a second wave of Covid-19 infections.

He emphasised that ACS maintains a cautious approach towards the reopening of churches in Sarawak for Sunday services, and that decisions must consider Covid-19 statistics in the state.

“Though I would be glad to have our churches and respective houses of worship opened to the people of Sarawak, I am of the opinion that we in Sarawak should not be rushed into making a decision that is advocated in other states in Malaysia.

“This is the reason I advocate a cautious approach before opening our churches: firstly, we need to analyse the local statistics of Covid-19 carefully as confirmed by the State Disaster Management Committee (SDMC).

“With regards to the opening of churches, I would advocate a very cautious approach with proper preparation and protocols to be first in place.

“Thus, as to whether Sarawak should open our churches, let us focus on the state’s reports on Covid-19 statistics during the next few days and weeks. Let us study this local data and not follow emotions nor succumb to public pressure.

“We need to be prudent and go slow to help ensure that there will be no second wave of Covid-19 infections in Sarawak,” he revealed in a statement.

Poh disclosed that he has already presented a draft of the standard operation procedures (SOPs) for the reopening of churches to the Unit for other Religions (Unifor)

He emphasised that all preparations and relevant SOPs such as social distancing and protocols, including wearing face masks, checking body temperatures and providing hand sanitizers, should be in place before any church is allowed to welcome worshippers.

He opined that when churches are allowed to reopen, churchgoers will need to adhere to the new norm of social distancing with one metre space between each person, and seating capacity will also need to be reduced. Potentially, this could also mean more services to cater for the number of worshippers.

Poh also stressed that churches will need to adhere to the new norms especially during gatherings.

“I would like to encourage the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions to stay safe at home and to continue to worship via livestreamed mass or services with families in the safety of their homes.

“Likewise, parents are not encouraged to bring young children to church as it would be difficult for them to keep social distancing and to refrain from touching their faces and things around them.

“We will need to maintain these for post-Covid-19 years until a vaccine is available or herd immunisation has taken place.”

He urged all Christians to be understanding and patient with the current situation and to cooperate to ensure that the community is not hit by a second wave of Covid-19 infections.

Meanwhile, he encouraged all to practise social distancing especially during the coming critical weeks of Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO) during the upcoming Hari Raya Aidilfitri and Gawai Dayak celebrations.

“Let each religious tradition pray for God’s divine intervention, that there will be not further infection and outbreak in our land and nation.

“We need to stand together as one family in Sarawak and in Malaysia because Covid-19 does not differentiate between any racial, religious or social status,” Poh added.

He revealed that Catholic Church staff have returned to work and operated behind closed doors last week, using the time to train staff in social distancing and familiarise them with health protocol like wearing masks, temperature screening, sanitising methods and more.

The office furniture in churches are also being rearranged, with staff reassigned to work on alternative days and from home.

He revealed that office floors in church have been marked with tape for social distancing, with screening tables set up with log books for contact tracing and so on. — DayakDaily