B.C. public health rules are being relaxed on a trial basis from March 28 to May 13 to allow indoor religious services for the important holidays coming up.
A public health variance order issued March 25 allows for indoor worship services on four days during that period, requiring physical distance and masks, and limiting attendance to 50 people or 10 per cent of the space capacity, whichever is less. People must pre-registered with a phone number or email address to allow for controlling attendance and contact tracing.
People attending are required to complete a health check first. Weddings, baptisms and indoor funerals are still off limits. A soloist may sing but no choirs are permitted.
“We are hopeful that this one-time indoor variance can be extended after the end of the trial period that we have until May 13,” provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said. “But of course it’s based on the pandemic and the epidemiological situation that we’re seeing here in B.C.”
Easter 2021 begins with Good Friday on April 2 and Easter Sunday April 4. The Jewish tradition of Passover begins on the evening of Friday, March 27 and ends on the evening of April 4. The Muslim tradition of Ramadan begins April 13 and lasts 30 days.
Henry, Health Minister Adrian Dix and Premier John Horgan have repeatedly held conference calls with faith leaders around the province to seek their support for the year-long series of public health orders on indoor gatherings. A group of Fraser Valley churches took the province to B.C. Supreme Court, where Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson upheld the public health orders March 19.
Henry said the timing of the temporary variance order is to coincide with important dates.
“That was selected with careful consideration of the very important upcoming holidays across different faith communities across the province,” Henry said. “It comes agains the backdrop of increasing case counts. And if conditions require us to revisit this, we will do so in consultation, again, and I am very appreciative that faith leaders have expressed that we all have that common goal of keeping people safe through this very challenging year.
“We take no pleasure, of course, in limiting any of the religious communities’ practices, and we want this to be a success. We want to make sure we are protecting those most vulnerable.”