This may come as a bit of a shock to some, but I actually agree the suspension of religious services is inconsistent with the public health orders currently in effect.
Don’t worry, there is a big caveat coming up later.
Of course, balancing individual and group rights and freedoms with the public good, is very complex, which is why there are exceptions to the rules (and sometimes exceptions to the exceptions).
The basic public health officer (PHO) order is that all public gatherings in B.C. are banned until (at least) Feb. 5.
Let’s look at a just a few things that are allowed, however, in exception to the basic ban.
Among these are: support group meetings; critical service meetings; meals provided for people in need; weddings, baptisms and funerals; programs for children and youth; occupational training.
There are also exceptions for youth sport, group sport, varsity sport and fitness centres etc. Professional sport is not covered under the order, but is treated separately and appears to be one of those exceptions to the exceptions.
And bars and restaurants are still open.
How “essential” some of these things are, is, of course, a matter of perspective. Like I said, it’s a complex balancing act.
Since the order is about health, including mental health, the arguments for the exceptions are sound.
So, let’s look at what all the exceptions have in common.
They are accompanied by a litany of rules regarding COVID-19 safety measures. The section pertaining to support group meetings etc. alone, contains 18 sub-sections, 27 sub-sub-sections and three sub-sub-sub-sections.
If the PHO believes these kinds of events can be held relatively safely because of their “essential” nature, I am not convinced suspending religious services is entirely fair.
Here’s the big caveat — if they are allowed to open, it can only be they do it responsibly.
By suspending worship services but saying that all these other groups and businesses can do it safely, are we saying that places of worship can’t or that we don’t trust they will.
But policy, law or regulation can’t be made on the basis of whether someone will follow it or not, only on the expectation they will and there will be consequences if they don’t.
That being said, we all need to take this thing very seriously.
Despite the continuing high number of daily infections, we are still relatively lucky in B.C. in general and the North specifically with respect to our day-to-day lives.
Quebec is now under an 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew that carries a $6,000 fine.
Places of worship are now locked down completely except for funerals limited to 10 people — unlike B.C. where you can still attend for individual prayer or reflection and funerals have a 50-person limit.
One in 30 people in London, UK, were infected during the last week of December and the National Health Service (NHS) there is so beleaguered the country is seeking help from the United Nations.
The United States is approaching 400,000 deaths.
B.C. has been particularly stubborn in not imposing truly draconian measures, but if you don’t think we can end up like Quebec or the UK or the US, you’re not paying attention.
The hospitals in Terrace and Prince George are starting to be overwhelmed and the Smithers local health area is reporting weekly numbers higher than what we had from January to September 2020 inclusively.
The only way we don’t get to full lockdown or overwhelmed by infections is if we all take the appropriate precautions.
Thom Barker is editor of the Smithers Interior News.