THE Government has lumped churches with pubs, cinemas, and hairdressers as premises that must stay closed at least until 4 July. A detailed document released on Monday, after the Prime Minister’s broadcast statement on Sunday night, speaks of churches as part of “Step Three” in the journey back to normal life while the coronavirus remains a threat.
Step One begins on Wednesday, with encouragement from the Government to return to work where this can be done safely. Step Two, to take place no earlier than 1 June, would involve a phased return to school for primary-aged children, the opening of non-essential shops, and the careful expansion of social groups.
Step Three, at the start of July, allows for further easing, assuming that infection rates have not risen again. The document states: “The ambition at this step is to open at least some of the remaining businesses and premises that have been required to close, including personal care (such as hairdressers and beauty salons) hospitality (such as food service providers, pubs and accommodation), public places (such as places of worship) and leisure facilities (like cinemas).
“They should also meet the Covid-19 secure guidelines. Some venues which are, by design, crowded and where it may prove difficult to enact distancing may still not be able to re-open safely at this point.”
The document states that no change will be made to the instructions for funerals, which allow a few family members and friends to attend services in crematoria or at outdoor burials.
There is, however, a hint that weddings might be allowed in three weeks’ time. The document states: “We understand the frustration couples planning a wedding must be feeling, so we have set out our intention to enable small wedding ceremonies from 1 June. As with all coronavirus restrictions on places of worship, venues and social distancing, we will look to ease them as soon as it is safe to do so.”
The document also raised the prospect that face covering might need to become standard for churchgoing. “People should aim to wear a face-covering in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not always possible and they come into contact with others that they do not normally meet, for example on public transport or in some shops.
“Homemade cloth face-coverings can help reduce the risk of transmission in some circumstances. Face-coverings are not intended to help the wearer, but to protect against inadvertent transmission of the disease to others if you have it asymptomatically.
“A face covering is not the same as a facemask such as the surgical masks or respirators used as part of personal protective equipment by healthcare and other workers. These supplies must continue to be reserved for those who need it. Face-coverings should not be used by children under the age of two, or those who may find it difficult to manage them correctly.”
The document also repeats advice about preventing the spread of the coronavirus, including maintaining the two-metre distancing rule, washing hands frequently, washing clothes regularly, and keeping indoor areas well ventilated.
The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, who has been leading the C of E’s response to the crisis, responded to the statement by recognising that it was still right to restrict public worship. “We note from the Government’s Covid-19 Recovery Strategy that churches could be open from July as part of the conditional and phased plan to begin lifting the lockdown. We look forward to the time when we are able to gather again in our church buildings.
“We are examining what steps we will need to take to do so safely and are actively planning ahead in preparation.
“We strongly support the Government’s approach of continuing to suppress the transmission of the virus and accordingly, we recognise that at this time public worship cannot return in the interests of public health and safety.”