British Columbians who want to gather indoors for a religious service can now do so, with COVID-19 safety plans in place.
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry announced the relaxation of restrictions on in-person services Thursday.
The measure, first implemented in November, has proven to be one of the most divisive of B.C.’s pandemic health orders.
The newly-announced change of rules is an updated version of a pilot plan Henry had announced in March, before surging COVID-19 case numbers prompted the province’s spring “circuit-breaker” restrictions.
Under the plan, up to 50 people may gather indoors for a religious gathering.
Outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people are also permitted.
B.C. to temporarily allow some indoor religious services
Organizers must pre-register attendees for contact-tracing purposes, provide hand sanitizer and carry out health checks on worshippers.
Participants must keep two metres apart, unless they’re from the same residence, and must wear a mask or other face covering.
Children 12 years of age or younger or people with a disability or health condition are exempt from the mask requirement.
Choirs remain banned, but soloists or musical groups of five or fewer people may perform. Worshippers may not sing or chant.
Small funerals and baptisms are permitted if they are a part of a religious service.
The guidance does not change B.C.’s current restrictions on weddings, which remain covered by the province’s restrictions on social gatherings and are still limited to 10 participants.
“Those are the things we will be working with faith leaders to move for the next phase of this, but right now we want to proceed slowly and carefully,” Henry said.
B.C.’s ban on indoor religious gatherings drew strong opposition from some churches in the province’s Fraser Valley and Interior, who continued to hold services in contravention of the order.
Several of the churches took the province to court over the ban.
In March, B.C. Supreme Court Chief Justice Christopher Hinkston ruled that the ban did infringe on rights to religious freedom, but that the infringement was reasonable based on the range of options open to the province.
That decision is currently facing an appeal.
© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.