03/29/2020 20:59 EDT | Updated 03/31/2020 16:36 EDT

Religious Events Will Have To ‘Adapt’ Around Coronavirus: Theresa Tam

Dr. Theresa Tam asked religious leaders to help "plank the curve" of the pandemic.

As major events like Easter and Ramadan approach, Canada’s chief public health officer is urging religious leaders to keep their celebrations in line with social distancing measures.

During a COVID-19 update Sunday, Dr. Theresa Tam ran through a list of self-isolation reminders, for everyone from recent travellers to the faithful getting ready for springtime religious events.

“Even our most important religious observances, like Easter and Ramadan will need to be adapted,” she said. “I ask all religious leaders to be part of Team Canada’s efforts on physical distancing, to help us plank the curve of this epidemic.”

Tam’s reminder comes after many religious organizations have already made the move to shut down or stop in-person gatherings. 

Blair Gable / Reuters
Canada's chief public health officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, attends a news conference in Ottawa on March 23, 2020.

In Rome, Pope Francis is set to hold the first Easter mass without a public audience on April 12. The Vatican has been live-streaming the Pope’s daily mass since March 9 after Italy’s rising novel coronavirus death toll put the entire country under lockdown. 

In Canada, leaders have been following the Vatican’s strategy, shutting down in-person services and closing parish offices.

Toronto’s archbishop, Cardinal Thomas Collins, advised churches to close — even for individual prayer — and released a schedule of masses that are set to be live-streamed.

Ontario has prohibited gatherings of more than five people, with exceptions made for large households. Jurisdictions around the country have implemented similar restrictions varying in size.

The Canadian Council of Imams released a joint statement with the Muslim Medical Association of Canada March 12 asking for all prayer spaces to be closed down until Apr. 5 or further. Ramadan is set to begin on April 23.

“As Muslims, we must do our part to reduce the spread of this virus,” said the statement. “In this difficult time, we must remain calm.” 

In lieu of a live stream, some mosques have decided to host online lectures through YouTube, Facebook and Zoom, an online video conferencing service commonly used for group meetings.

Vatican Media / Reuters
Pope Francis delivers the weekly Angelus prayer, streamed via video over the internet from inside the Vatican on March 29, 2020. 

The council has also released guidelines around burials during the COVID-19 pandemic. They call for those involved in funerals to be healthy, take extensive precautionary measures and advise that viewings only include close family members. 

In Israel, senior Orthodox rabbis have ruled that Jewish families separated by novel coronavirus quarantines can use technology to stay connected during Shabbat and Passover celebrations, a time when the use of electronic devices is strictly forbidden.

While reconfiguring their religious observances, some leaders also called on the Canadian government to recognize charitable efforts and support charitable religious organizations through funding.

On Thursday, the National Council of Canadian Muslims askedMinister of Families, Children and Social Development Ahmed Hussen to match donations raised by their organizations for the next three months in a letter co-signed by the Muslim Association of Canada.  

Trudeau announced $16.5 million in financial aid for United Way and Kids Help Phone on Sunday.

During her briefing, Tam said that it’s too early to tell the effects of social distancing and closures on containing the virus. She urged Canadians to continue with stringent physical distancing measures but said that next week will be an important indicator on how things are progressing.