Saigon pagoda shut down after mass celebration

 Vien Giac Pagoda in Saigon has been closed and disinfected after an estimated 1,000 worshippers gathered for a ceremony amid the nation’s critical Covid-19 fight.

On Friday evening, worshippers gathered at Vien Giac Pagoda, located at 193 Bui Thi Xuan Street, Tan Binh District, to pray for a peaceful year.

After the Ky An ceremony was reported to HCMC People’s Committee, on Saturday morning the pagoda was required to suspend all activities until further notice.

The pagoda had required all participants to wear face masks, have their temperature screened and their hand sanitized (pictured). However, it violated the city's rules which ban religious rituals and other activities at religious sites that gather 20 people or more.

The authority's order also stipulated that from Feb. 9, all entertainment and sports activities, spa and massage parlors, karaokes, night clubs, bars and pubs, gaming centers, banquet halls, cinemas, theaters, gymnasiums, yoga classes, and billiard clubs must be suspended.

Nguyen Thanh Phong, Chairman of HCMC People’s Committee, said there would be no exemption when it came to violating the rules, especially events that involve a mass of people.

At the ceremony, devotees lined up in the courtyard, main hall, on the stairs and in corridors, though keeping a certain distance from each other.

The ritual officially began at 6:00 p.m. By this time, many other devotees who could not enter had to offer their prayers in front of the entrance, standing closely packed.

Vien Giac, built in 1955, was expanded to an area of 3,000 square meters in 2001, boasting the highest tower made of Vietnam ceramics in the country.

The ritual peaked as pilgrims performed the act of placing scripts on their head en masse for about 20 minutes.

Pagoda staff burned a religious petition letter in a big incense holder as a symbolic act on everyone’s behalf.

A monk distributed gifts to devotees by hand to mark an end to the two-hour ceremony.

Minister of Health Nguyen Thanh Long told a government meeting this week HCMC's Tan Son Nhat Airport outbreak cluster was "basically put under control."

In the city, 36 people have been diagnosed with Covid-19 since the country's new outbreak began on Jan. 28 after a 55-day clean streak. Thirty-five of them are linked to the airport and one to Hai Duong Province, the current coronavirus epicenter.
Although HCMC has not recorded any new Covid-19 community transmissions over the last nine days, the city is still cautious about crowds that could lead to coronavirus superspreading.

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