SURREY, B.C. -- On the first day of new restrictions on places of worship in B.C., the great hall at Surrey’s Gurdwara Dukh Nivaran Sahib is bare.

Its worship is also streaming on YouTube for the first time in four months.

“This is a tough time,” said Narinder Singh Walia. “People can’t come to the prayer. Some people have come every day for their entire life.”

New restrictions announced Thursday by provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry included a suspension of in-person, group services at religious places.

She said such environments have been contributing to the province’s surge in coronavirus cases in recent weeks.

“We have seen transmission in some of our faith-based settings,” Henry said. “We need to suspend those and support each other and find those ways to care for each other remotely.”

Walia calls the move unfair and said it is having a big impact on the mental health of hundreds that believe they need to attend Gurdwara to pray.

“One lady, she came here and I told her, ‘You cannot come to the temple for two weeks,’ and she was depressed and she was crying,” he said.

He understands the need to follow the new rules, but also mentioned his Gurdwara had been trying hard to follow the safety precautions that have been in place for months.

“We have to follow all the regulations, but when you announce the regulations, think about everything. I think this order will hurt older people and increase their anxiety and depression,” he said.

Walia also worries for the thousands of people he said come to his Gurdwara for food.

“We serve 84,000 containers of food in three months” he said. “The people who come to the temple for food from our free kitchen, where can they go now?” 

Registered clinical counsellor Robert Grigore explained some people use these in-person services to help cope with the mental impacts of the pandemic.

“For a lot of people, what’s happening in our world, it feels like prison. To have your regular outlet taken way, although a logical removal or restriction, it is going to activate the emotional and fear centre of the brain,” Grigore said.

Meanwhile, Temple Sholom in Vancouver is going a step beyond the restrictions, keeping its doors closed even to the small celebrations that are still allowed, while continuing service online.

“I would never want religion to be something that puts people's lives in jeopardy. Religion is about celebrating life and preserving life,” said senior rabbi Dan Moskovitz. “I don’t want to do a wedding or a ceremony of celebration that ends in a funeral.”