MANDALAY—The Mandalay regional government has ordered all religious buildings to restrict entrance to only those who can present a health certificate showing they do not have COVID-19.
The order issued on Sunday covers all religious buildings, including pagodas, temples, churches, mosques, Chinese temples and Hindu temples across Mandalay Region and will remain in effect until April 30.
The regional government said the health certificate must have been issued within 72 hours by a township-level healthcare center.
“Pilgrims and visitors to religious buildings must be healthy. All visitors need to present proof of their health to enter the premises of any religious building,” said the order by the Mandalay regional government.
Although the order did not mention clearly on the health tests and the health certificate, it was welcome by many locals.
“The health certificate is just an excuse, but it is to warn locals not to gather at religious buildings and premises,” said Sayadaw Ashin Ariyawuntha Bhiwun Sa, an influential abbot at Mandalay’s Myawaddy Mingyi Monastery. “All of us need to follow the instructions strictly, because in the current situation it is very important to control the spread of the virus.”
Sayadaw said the coronavirus situation is at an important stage and that pilgrims must stay home, avoid crowds and not attend religious affairs.
“The pilgrims must not use religion as a reason to gather and go out to pagodas and temples. We need to act wisely and strictly follow every instruction. If needed, the government should lock down pagodas and temples, as well as the city, and should punish those who do not follow the instructions,” he added.
Trustees for the Mahamuni Pagoda, Kuthodaw Pagoda and Mandalay Hill Pagoda told The Irrawaddy that their committees are on alert to respond quickly if the premises of the pagodas need to be shut down.
“Currently, we encourage pilgrims to wash their hands and do social distancing,” said U Soe Lin, chairperson of the Mahamuni Pagoda trustee committee. “We are disinfecting the premises regularly and have health checkpoints. Since the news of confirmed cases [in Myanmar], the number of pilgrims has dropped. However, if there are further instructions, for example to close the temple doors, we will follow them right away.”
Christian churches in Mandalay have already announced their closures and suspended their devotion services in early March. They will remain closed until at least April 30 and have postponed their religious trainings and summer schools.
All churches in the city already instructed followers to pray from home and to join online, livestreamed services. They also postponed all services for Easter, an important Christian celebration of the resurrection of Christ, which falls on April 12 this year.
Hindu temples also postponed religious celebrations until the end of April, however temple doors are still open to those who want to worship.
“We put out soap, water and hand sanitizer and check people’s body temperatures at the entrance for those who want to pray at the temple,” said U Shantilar, a member of the Sri Sanatan Dharma Hindu Temple trustee board. “However, we encourage worshipers to stay at home and the number who come to the temple is significantly lowered.”
Mosques, on the other hand, have yet to close their doors but are instituting hygiene measures to prevent the spread of the virus. Muslim religious leaders said it will be difficult to get the health certificate ordered by the regional government.
“We have questions about the health certificate—where we have to get it and who will take the responsibility to issue it,” said U Thein Win Aung, a Muslim religious leader in Mandalay.
According to religious leaders, mosques have instructed worshippers to keep at least 2 m distance from one another and are checking worshippers’ body temperatures at entrances.
“I would not be in favor of this order if it is just to restrict people and make it difficult to go to the mosque and worship. We want more clarification about this health certification, because there will be many difficulties for us to get them,” he added.
After the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic on March 11, Myanmar’s Ministry of Health and Sports issued instructions asking people to avoid mass gatherings until April 30.
The government has ordered the closures of cinemas and nursery schools across the country, and the Burmese New Year Thingyan festival and religious festivals have been canceled across the country to restrict public gatherings.
As Myanmar confirmed its first COVID-19 cases last week, the government instructed the public to stay at home and to avoid crowds and mass gatherings.
Regional governments across the country have issued orders to close bars and karaoke lounges and told restaurants, teashops and snack shops to serve take-away only.
In Yangon, Sule Pagoda and Botahtaung Pagoda located have already closed their doors.
In Mandalay, large markets such as Zay Cho Market and Yadanapon Market were ordered to close. Wet markets are only allowed to be open for limited times.
“There will be some weak points around getting the health certificates,” said Saya Nyipulay, a veteran author in Mandalay. “However, this is an important step that everyone should follow to tackle the coronavirus. We would do better to stay at home and pray from home so that we can do our part in controlling the spread of the virus.”
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