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Masks in church are on their way

15 July 2020

But no threat of fines for worshippers who do not comply


A protective mask and eye screen are worn at Parroquia de la Sagrada Familia, in Mexico City, last Friday, as places of worship were gradually reopened in Mexico

A protective mask and eye screen are worn at Parroquia de la Sagrada Familia, in Mexico City, last Friday, as places of worship were gradually reopene...

WORSHIPPERS and visitors to Church of England cathedrals and churches are likely to be advised to wear face coverings from 24 July, in line with the latest government guidance, the Church Times understands.

The details about who will be requested to wear the masks — for example, the congregation rather than the priest — and how this might be compatible with receiving holy communion were being finalised by the Recovery Group of the Church of England on Wednesday.

The Government announced on Tuesday that face masks would be compulsory in all shops and supermarkets in England from 24 July. This would not apply to retail staff. People who did not comply with the new rule could be fined up to £100, the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, said.

He told the House of Commons: “The death rate of sales and retail assistants is 75 per cent higher among men and 60 per cent higher among women than in the general population. . . There is also evidence that face coverings increase confidence in people to shop.”

The rule would not work in pubs, cafés, or restaurants, he said.

Since face coverings in places of worship will be only advisory, there is currently no question of any fine for non-compliance.

Scotland, which as of Wednesday had reported no coronavirus-related deaths for almost a week, has already made face masks mandatory in shops, as have other European nations, including Spain, Italy, and Germany. The President of France, Emmanuel Macron, announced on Tuesday that masks would be compulsory in “all enclosed public spaces” from 1 August. This would include many places of worship.

Although many churches and cathedrals in England have now reopened for worship (News, 10 July), few have decided to reopen their shops, cafés, and restaurants. The lockdown has cost cathedrals tens of millions of pounds in lost revenue from visitor spending and donations.

Chichester Cathedral could not afford to reopen its café, the cathedral’s Communar and Executive Director, David Coulthard, said. Jobs were at risk.

“The cathedral will expend much of its reserves in this year and next as a direct result of lost income caused by the pandemic,” he explained, “despite support from the Government’s job-retention scheme, and having halted all but essential expenditure within the period of lockdown.

“As a result, we have proposed a number of changes, including the closure of our café. The café makes only a small profit, even in a good year, and to keep it open in the circumstances that we’re going to experience over the next year or so would cost the cathedral a substantial amount.

“We are sad for those whose jobs are at risk, and sad that we won’t be able to offer hospitality in this way for the foreseeable future, but risking running out of money is not the right thing for the cathedral’s long-term health.”

Other cathedrals have also taken the decision to reopen only for worship. Lichfield Cathedral had no firm plans regarding its café or shop, a spokeswoman said. It had, however, introduced a temporary entrance fee for sight-seers, who must pre-book: £2 for anyone over the age of five; £5 for families of two adults and two children.

“We are committed to keeping Lichfield Cathedral free for everyone in the long term, but, as a temporary measure, we will be introducing a nominal charge at the point of pre-booking your tickets,” the spokeswoman said. “This fee will help us implement the measures required to maintain the safety of our staff and visitors and aid the track and trace initiative.”

The Dean and Chapter of Norwich Cathedral, which is open for worship and general visitors, has not ruled out reopening its retail areas. “We look forward to our shop and refectory café reopening when the time is right, and when they do we will ensure government guidelines are followed in conjunction with our health and safety adviser,” a statement said.

St Edmundsbury Cathedral was among those able to reopen its gift shop and kitchen at the earliest opportunity. Furloughed staff had returned, a spokeswoman said on Tuesday. Risk assessments had been carried out; screens, markers, and hand-sanitising stations had been installed; and “careful consideration was given to routes through both the shop and restaurant.”

Only six visitors are permitted to enter the shop at a time. “Visitor numbers are modest and beginning to increase,” she said. St Edmundsbury was one of 30 cathedrals that had gained “good-to-go” accreditation from VisitEngland.

Its health and safety officer, Stewart Alderman, said that it would be supporting the introduction of masks later this month. “So far, we have been pleased with the reaction of customers who have responded well to the measures we have taken to make visitors feel safe. In particular in the restaurant, we have maximised the use of our beautiful outdoor space, which means that we can now offer tables with views of the magnificent Millennium Tower.”

A spokesperson for York Minster, which reopened its two shops on Saturday, said: “From 24 July, it will be compulsory for people visiting the cathedral’s shops to wear a face covering, in line with the Government’s requirements for shops.” It had also introduced measures including Perspex screens at the tills, and accepting only card and contactless payments.

Canterbury Cathedral is running on a reduced staff of four team members, compared with 15 before lockdown, after reopening one of its three shops, which is in the reopened visitor centre, a spokesperson said. It is also offering bottled drinks and pre-packaged snacks from an open-air kiosk in the precincts, between certain hours.

Glass screens, a one-way system, cleaning schedules, entry limits, and track-and- trace have been introduced. “All sales assistants and shop staff wear masks, with access to additional PPE if required,” a spokesman said. “From 24 July, masks will also be worn by our visits staff within the visitor centre.”

Plans to reopen Leicester Cathedral for private prayer from 1 July, then public worship, were postponed after the first local lockdown in England was enforced in the city last month (News, 3 July). Writing for the Church Times website this week, the Dean of Leicester, the Very Revd David Monteith, explained: “Just as with local businesses, we had made extensive preparations, spent money on equipment and staffing, and raised expectations.”

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