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Enough cover?

17 July 2020

THERE is no secret behind the Government’s dithering over face masks in public. It has stopped making decisions based on medical advice and has reverted to making them on political grounds. Or, if it is listening to the experts, it is listening to economic ones, too, and trying to satisfy both. The public is right to suspect a leadership that, having argued against the need for masks for several months, is now making them mandatory in shops as well as public transport. The decision appears to have more to do with supply than sense. The question now — unresolved when this paper went to press — is whether masks should be compulsory in all indoor public places, including churches.

Masks were not prominent at a youth event organised by the First Assembly of God church in Fort Myers, Florida, on 10 June: “Service is back and better than ever!” The church has since vigorously denied that the event, called a “Release Party”, was in fact a “Covid party”, a type of gathering in the United States at which coronavirus precautions are mocked and flouted. None the less, more than 100 children are said to have attended, among them Carsyn Davis, a 17-year-old girl with underlying health problems. Thirteen days later, she was dead from Covid-19. Before being taken to hospital, Carsyn was treated at home with an antibiotic and then hydroxychloroquine, the chemical of which President Trump remarked in April: “I see the disinfectant that knocks it [the coronavirus] out in a minute, a minute. . .”

It could be said that Carsyn’s biggest misfortune was being born in the wrong state. Florida has currently had 287,000 cases and more than 4000 known Covid deaths. Scepticism about the coronavirus is rife. But so is exploitation: the leaders of another Florida church, the Genesis II Church of Health and Healing, were arrested last week for selling their Miracle Mineral Solution to the coronavirus (March sales: $123,000). It is said to be essentially bleach.

In the debate about how a post-pandemic C of E might look, the idea of a “leaner, fitter” model is attractive. The danger, though, is that this, too, has more to do with supply than sense. As a correspondent suggests (Letters, page 17), the Church of England’s central and diocesan structures have a purpose. Of course reform is needed, but, before all is swept away, the example of Florida, by no means unique, might be considered. A hierarchical system that promotes certain individuals but, crucially, contains within it mechanisms to challenge those whom it promotes — such as last Saturday’s General Synod Zoom session — can appear to be cumbersome and inward-looking. But any alternative without checks and balances of this kind must be looked at with extreme caution. People who join churches are, by and large, trusting, and require a Church that is catholic in both structure and intent. To serve up inexpert or amateur advice or, worse, allow in the snake-oil vendors, would be a serious blunder.

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