Archbishop Simon Poh

REOPENING OF NON-MUSLIM HOUSES OF WORSHIP

KUCHING: Extreme caution has been emphasised with regards to the possibility of churches and other non-Muslim houses of worship reopening starting June 10 as permitted by the authorities.

Although he felt heartened by this, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Kuching, Most Reverend Simon Poh, thought it was advisable to wait and follow reports and further directives from the Sarawak Disaster Management Committee (SDMC).

Also as chairman of the Association of Churches in Sarawak (ACS), he said he was responsible for the well-being of hundreds of thousands of Catholics and Christians in Sarawak.

“Thus, I would be slow to request that all churches be reopened throughout Sarawak. I would rather err on the side of being prudent to ensure that all church protocols are in place to minimise the possibility of the church creating an infection cluster,” he told New Sarawak Tribune yesterday.

He said that in short, even when permission is given, proper preparation is advocated with each respective church leader implementing all safety protocols before opening the church doors, even for 30 attendees as per the standard operating procedure (SOP).

“We need to remain level-headed and carefully analyse the local statistics of Covid-19 cases and not succumb to public pressure, either from federal or political leaders,” he said.

He was commenting on Senior Minister (Security Cluster) Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob’s announcement on Thursday (May 21) that non-Muslim houses of worship would be allowed to resume activities in green zones starting June 10.

Poh acknowledged that this current phase of the conditional movement control order (CMCO) had allowed the much-needed economic stimulus, with certain businesses and malls being opened. He noted that traffic was now heavier on the roads with more people in town.

“With Hari Raya and Gawai celebrations coming, it is crucial that everyone does not let down their guard and instead continue to maintain stricter social distancing and good hygiene,” he stressed.

Counting the standard 14 days as the incubation period of the coronavirus from May 12 onwards, he said that this would happen around May 26 which would coincide with the days around Hari Raya, with Gawai following a week later on June 1 and the opening of non-Muslim houses of worship on June 10.

“Our SDMC has contributed tremendously to flattening the infection curve and containing Covid-19 within the city and town centres. This has been achieved through constant monitoring of returning students and Sarawakians, and by limiting inter-district travel,” he said.

He hoped that with these measures, there would be no new clusters and rural villages and cities would continue to remain free of the virus.

He said that it had to be ensured that the predominantly rural communities in Sarawak remained Covid-19 free, especially since rural health facilities would not be able to handle any mass infection and many would not have ease of access to testing centres and hospitals with ventilators.

“Our Sarawak landscape and situation are definitely different from the more developed West Malaysia,” Poh pointed out.

The ACS, heads of churches, and spiritual leaders were now working out respective SOPs and protocols.

On this, he said that he had submitted a draft to the Unit for Other Religions (Unifor), encouraging all spiritual leaders in the state to share the best practices in their preparations.

“Everyone needs to work together as Covid-19 does not distinguish between religion, race, or social status. To overcome Covid-19 in Malaysia, while recognising the diverse geographical locations, we have to think and act beyond the constraints of religion, culture, or race,” he said.

He said that consultation, protocols, and target dates set were to be applicable to all faiths without prejudice.

“I wish our Muslim friends Selamat Ramadan and Hari Raya in a few days’ time. To all Christians, I wish a Spirit-filled Pentecost Sunday (May 31) and to our Dayak friends, an advanced Selamat Hari Gawai (June 1).

“Let us work together as a people of Sarawak to ensure that there will be no second wave of Covid-19 in Sarawak and to contribute towards the overall health of our nation,” urged Poh.