British Columbia

In-person faith-based gatherings can resume in B.C., with limitations

As of Tuesday, in-person faith-based gatherings can resume in B.C., with reduced capacity and safety measures in place.

More details expected as public health officials meet with religious leaders

Faith-based gatherings have been on hold, or taken online, for much of the COVID-19 pandemic, but as of Tuesday, in-person services can resume with some safety measures. (Getty Images)

Update — May 27, 2021: B.C.'s provincial health officer has confirmed that new guidelines allow for 50 people to attend indoor faith-based gatherings as long as COVID-19 safety plans have been put in place.

As of Tuesday, in-person faith-based gatherings can resume in B.C., with reduced capacity and safety measures in place. 

Farah Shroff, a professor with the University of British Columbia's school of population and public health, said the revival of in-person religious services and other face-to-face gatherings is welcome news. 

"I think it's going to be really helpful for people to be able to get back together again," she said. 

"Human beings like to be together, and there are a lot of people who spend their social time in their faith-based communities."

Yahya Momla, senior imam at the Masjid al Salaam mosque and Education Centre in Burnaby, is awaiting more information about capacity limits and other measures that will be put in place to ensure people will be safe when they attend in-person services.

In-person services were suspended in March when B.C.'s circuit breaker was announced. Earlier this month, a church in Kelowna was fined $2,300 for allegedly going against public health orders and holding an indoor gathering.

More details on religious gatherings going forward are expected this week, as public health officials meet with faith leaders and religious communities to come up with safety plans. 

"Faith communities have been incredibly resilient throughout the past 15 months," Momla told On the Coast host Gloria Macarenko. 

11-year-old Kaisen Merali recites prayers for Eid al-Fitr online for his family while religious places of prayer remained closed during COVID-19. (Merali Family)

He noted that very traditional communities have been forced to adapt to new ways of delivering services. 

"I think people have gotten used to being patient, or extra patient with us."

Momla said his community has been missing being able to get together, particularly as they've just finished celebrating Ramadan during the pandemic for a second time. 

He hopes that returning to in-person gatherings will help with the mental health impacts of communities being separated.

"I believe that we're going to see the effects of all of this long separation from places of worship on the mental health of, in particular, our seniors, who even given the variants due to their age and their vulnerability, they've been asked not to come to any personal religious services, even outdoors," he said. 

"For many of them, this is actually the one and only social outlet they have in their lives."

With files from On the Coast.