Houses of worship across Quebec are expected to reopen at the end of the month under new COVID-19 deconfinement rules — with choirs not permitted and doors remaining open during religious services to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The pandemic has taken a heavy toll on the province’s spiritual institutions, with thousands of memorial services not being held in houses of worship that would have given the bereaved the opportunity to mourn collectively.
Since May 8, a council has been negotiating with the provincial government to establish new protocols to reopen houses of worship as the COVID-19 pandemic comes under control in Montreal. After some back-and-forth on reopening rules, the council was told it will receive a response by Friday from the government on the measures that need to be respected.
“Everyone wants to reopen, but this needs to be done prudently, because no one wants houses of worship to become sites of outbreaks,” Monseigneur Pierre Murray.
“The information we’ve received leads us to believe the reopening will occur at the end of June.”
Among the measures that congregants must follow:
- Maintaining physical distancing of two metres.
- Wearing cloth face coverings.
- Washing or disinfecting hands before and after leaving a house of worship.
- Choirs will not be permitted and the congregation will be discouraged from singing. However, up to three singers and some musicians will be allowed to perform, all the while keeping their distance from each other.
Murray conceded the new rules will mean that some houses of worship may have to reduce the size of their religious gatherings.
“There may be synagogues that will have to reduce by 30 percent their capacity,” Murray explained.
The Quebec government has staggered the reopening sectors of the economy, focusing first on outlying regions and then on Montreal. No date has been set by the government to reopen religious institutions, a Health Ministry spokesperson said.
“The reopening of all places of worship is linked to the lifting of the ban on gatherings,” Marie-Hélène Émond said by email, declining to confirm when this will occur.
The island of Montreal includes 470 houses of worship, according to a provincial registry. The metropolis has for weeks been the epicentre of the pandemic in Quebec, with more than 3,100 people dying from COVID-19. But the number of deaths, hospitalizations and cases has dropped steadily in Montreal in the past two weeks, even as some retail stores have reopened and public gatherings of up to 10 people were allowed.