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Pandemic response is too centralised, say Welby and Mullally

16 September 2020

pa

People enjoy outdoor dining in London, on Monday, the day on which the law against groups of more than six meeting came into force in most regions

People enjoy outdoor dining in London, on Monday, the day on which the law against groups of more than six meeting came into force in most regions

TOO much central control is hampering the Government’s response to the pandemic, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, have said — and the same, they say, is true of the Church.

In an article published in The Daily Telegraph on Wednesday, they write that the Government’s response to the pandemic has largely been driven from the centre. This has included “shutting shops and pubs, closing schools and barring places of worship. . . Few of us have experienced the sheer power of government like that in our lifetimes.”

They continue: “But with a vaccine still far from certain, infection rates rising and winter on the horizon, the new normal of living with Covid-19 will only be sustainable — or even endurable — if we challenge our addiction to centralisation and go back to an age-old principle: only do centrally what must be done centrally. . .

“When it comes to Covid-19, the importance of local networks and communities becomes even greater. Scotland and Wales have shown that local public health is the best qualified to deal with local outbreaks. Local government, schools and voluntary agencies — including churches — can communicate well, act swiftly and measure risk and consequences on the ground. Giving them generous funding would be a good investment.”

They cite examples of churches responding to the pandemic at the parish level, including those “offering summer holiday experiences for families, or Hackney Church in east London, which has supplied over 100,000 meals since lockdown began”.

They acknowledge that the C of E is “not immune to the temptation to pull more decisions into the centre, to feel that ‘something is being done’. But it is a temptation that should be resisted. Often that ‘something’ might not be as effective as what could be done locally.”

They continue: “It’s a challenge for government, and it’s one we also accept in the Church of England. Where some have felt we have made too many decisions from the centre, we recommit to empowering clergy and parishes, which are and have always been the foundation of the Church.”

The Telegraph quoted “a source close to the Archbishop” as saying that he was “deeply concerned about Christmas and the impact of the ‘rule of six’ on the vulnerable, the needy, the poor and the elderly”.

The source continued: “He is concerned about families being kept apart and the knock-on effect that has, particularly on people who are on their own. The heart of the Christian faith is to love thy neighbour, which is increasingly difficult when strict rules are imposed by the centre.”

On Wednesday morning, however, Archbishop Welby wrote on Twitter: “The Rule of 6 is a matter for scientific advice as well as local and central government decision-making, and not for me to comment. We need to focus on the vulnerable and the impact on them.”

On Monday, the law was changed to address a rise in coronavirus cases, reducing the maximum number of people who can gather from 30 to six. It does not apply to places of worship (News, 11 September), where there is no prescribed limit to the number who can attend; or to Covid-secure weddings, funerals, and other “life-cycle” services, where no more than 30 people attend.

Government guidance on places of worship, updated on Monday, says: “Whilst engaging in an activity in the place of worship or surrounding grounds, all parties should adhere to social distancing guidelines. 2 metres or 1 metre with actions taken to reduce the risk of transmission (where 2 metres is not viable) between households are acceptable. For example, use of face coverings.”

Since 8 August, it has been mandatory for worshippers to wear face coverings (News, 7 August), although the guidance says that “those who are leading services or events in a place of worship, and those who assist them (for instance by reading, preaching, or leading prayer) do not always need to wear a face covering”.

The guidance goes on to state that, once a worship service has ended, “participants should be encouraged to move on promptly, to minimise the risk of contact and spread of infection. . .

“Worshippers should limit their interactions with anyone they are not attending your Place of Worship with, i.e. if they are attending a communal service with one other household, wherever possible they should try not to engage in conversation with anyone outside of this group.”

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19 October 2020
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