THERE is distress and anger in Liverpool at the new restrictions imposed on the city, but its designation as Tier 3 — the highest-risk category for Covid-19 infection — would help to keep the city safe, the Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, said on Tuesday.
“Statistics show that we have been in a bad way, and our numbers are increasing: Liverpool has five of the country’s top ten boroughs per rate of infections,” he said. “Our local leaders are negotiating with the Government about financial support packages, especially for the hospitality industry. A lot of entrepreneurial people have set up here, and they really are looking at meltdown.
“There is a lot of distress about that, and some anger at the way things are. People tend to take it out either on the Government or on local government. But I hope and pray people will just maintain the disciplines. They are severe, but not as bad as when it was the full lockdown in April.”
The people of Liverpool had looked out for one another, and they would rise to this situation and look to their natural good humour to see it through, the Bishop said. He declared himself overwhelmed by the offers of prayer and spiritual support that had flooded in from all over the country. “I really do feel we are borne up in prayer, and that’s a real encouragement,” he said.
The Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, believes that the north is being “hung out to dry”. He acknowledged on Tuesday that the three-tier system brought a degree of clarity to regulations that had people so confused that they were about to give up. But there still seemed to be very little understanding in Westminster of the impact of the pandemic on northern working-class communities.
People in low-paid work and on zero-hours contracts could not afford to isolate; poor-quality housing provided ideal conditions for the virus to spread; and unemployment and reduction in hours and pay were increasing, he said. Clergy were reporting vastly increased rates of foodbank use, and “a growing sense of despair” among the people they served. The pressures on family life were intense and increasing.
“Handing down regulations from on high is not enough, and the new furlough scheme is inadequate to meet people’s needs,” he said. “Urgent measures need to be taken to shore up the northern economy, which means addressing years of under-investment in the north.
“The Government currently seems to be unable to go beyond the reactive — simply responding to the voices that shout loudest. We need clear strategy and pro-active investment if huge areas of the north of the country are not to be permanently damaged by this crisis.”
The Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff, advocated the “carrot rather than the stick” approach to restrictions when he spoke in the House of Lords last week. While he accepted the underlying principle of the “rule of six”, he expressed concern over anomalies that could lead to damage in family relationships.
“I’m trying to tease out the logic of the Government’s position,” he said on Tuesday. “I realise they want simple messages and clarity, but when you get more and more anomalies building up, it makes it more difficult for people to buy in. If they have a rationale for what is being done, they are willing to do it. Intrusiveness and over-use of fines are not necessarily the best way to get people to behave.”
The damage to well-being had already been well aired in terms of care homes, the Bishop said (News, 2 October). “I hope serious attention can be paid to this. We are created to be relational beings, and the restrictions on relating to each other are damaging of our humanity.”
The new restrictions and designations appear to show only one change to the guidance for places of worship, which remain open in all three tiers. The maximum number allowed at weddings (15) and funerals (30) stays the same, but wedding receptions are no longer permitted in Tier 3 regions.
A statement from Church House on Tuesday said: “Following the announcement of a new three-tier risk alert system for COVID-19, we understand that Places of Worship can remain open at all Tiers. In ‘high’ and ‘very high’ Tiers, there should be no mixing between households. We recognise the important role churches and other places of worship continue to play in serving their communities.
“Across England and Europe, our churches are providing vital comfort and support to people amid very difficult times. We fully appreciate the scale of the threat from Covid-19 and recognise the vigilance that churches will need to continue to practice, in order to minimise the spread of the virus. We will study Government guidance when available and amend our advice as necessary.”
Churches would have to be prepared for any possible reduction in numbers, the Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, the Rt Revd Paul Williams, warned. “We need to understand that all of us now are on the front line, and all have a vital part to play,” he said on Monday. “If we have to lose buildings for a further period, if that helps to bring down the rate of infection, we will do that. It will be sad, but with a joyful confidence that we are playing our part.”
St Mungo’s Roman Catholic Church in Glasgow, where public mass is limited to 50 people, has expressed its “disappointment” that the SNP MP, Margaret Ferrier, attended and gave a Bible reading on the day after she took a test for coronavirus. She has since faced calls to stand down after travelling from London to Scotland after testing positive. The archdiocese emphasised that anyone required to self-isolate should do so, for the good of the whole community.
The distress of mourners at the funeral of a 94-year-old woman at Coychurch Crematorium, in Bridgend, south Wales, was widely reported after officials at the crematorium deemed the recitation of the Lord’s Prayer — which had been requested by the deceased woman — as “chanting”. The superintendent stopped the celebrant, Alison Davies, from leading it, on the grounds that it was breaking Welsh government legislation on avoidance of “singing, chanting, and shouting”.
The congregation were reportedly quietly saying the prayer in unison. A spokesman subsequently said that the council was sorry if its actions had caused any upset.
New restrictions come into force in Northern Ireland on Friday evening, and will be in place for the next four weeks. They include the closure of pubs and restaurants, except for deliveries and takeaways. Churches and other places of worship will be allowed to remain open, but it will be mandatory to wear face coverings when entering and leaving the building. This will not apply to parties to a marriage or civil partnership.
The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson, said in a statement on Friday: “As restrictions increase, so does our anxiety, but so also does our need for compliance with national guidelines where we live.
“I want to congratulate all who have complied so carefully and to ask you to keep this going. As the State increases restrictions I also suggest that we all think of something extra we might do for our own safety and for the safety of others. Often we are told to think twice; we now need to think three times before acting or travelling.
“The enhanced Level 3 will put huge pressure on those who remember with dread the lockdown in the spring of this year. We need to be mindful of them and to care for them from afar.”
In the House of Lords last week, the Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Revd Julian Henderson, drew the attention of the House of Lords to the joint report from the C of E and the Child Poverty Action group on the “disproportionate impact” of the pandemic on low-income families with children. He asked the Government to make a commitment to making permanent the temporary uplift in Universal Credit, and asked them to make a commitment to a commensurate increase in the level of support for children, to reflect additional needs.
Covid-19 is pushing the crisis in homelessness off the agenda, the Archbishop of Wales, the Most Revd John Davies, has warned. “Covid-19 has brought great suffering to very many lives,” he said in a message for Homelessness Sunday last week. “One of the problems is that something like this can sometimes overshadow or help us to forget that there are other ongoing crises in the lives of many people, and homelessness is such a crisis.”
Housing Justice, the national ecumenical voice on homelessness and housing need, has welcomed government guidance and operating principles for providers of winter night shelters in England, issued on Monday. All night shelters in England have been closed since 1 April, because of significant risks of infection attached to dormitory-style accommodation.
The charity’s chief executive, Kathy Mohan, said: “The document underlines what all projects have known since the pandemic, that there will be no return to business as usual, and emergency accommodation will look very different from previous years.”
The charity hopes to be able to offer new funding to groups that have run dormitory-style accommodation in recent years, to help them to provide self-contained accommodation. “Cold-weather shelters in this country are predominantly staffed by volunteers, and operate on tiny budgets. These are people motivated purely by the desire not to walk by on the other side,” she said.
“We need the same sense of partnership between central government, the homelessness sector, local authorities, and faith and community groups that we saw during the early days of the pandemic, to be sure that the safest possible accommodation is available in every community, so that nobody is forced to stay on the street this winter.”
The pandemic continues to make an impact on cathedrals. Ely has announced an unspecified number of redundancies in the light of a projected deficit of £700,000. The cathedral had put 80 to 90 members of staff on furlough, but the Dean, the Very Revd Mark Bonney, told the Ely Standard that, while the deficit had been budgeted for, voluntary and compulsory redundancies had had to be made among those furloughed.
“We have had to trim our organisation into the foreseeable future,” he told the paper. “Next year, we’re looking at an unhealthy three-figure deficit, but we are fortunate to have some reserves to help us through that. If it continues much longer than that, we’ll be in severe difficulties.”
Read more on the story in our leader comment and further comment on the challenges and emotional toll of the restrictions