“TODAY is a dark and difficult day for our nation and our world,” the Archbishop of Canterbury said on Tuesday, as global coronavirus deaths exceeded one million.
In a statement posted on his social-media channels, he said: “Behind the figure of one million people who have died from coronavirus are a million mothers and fathers; daughters and sons; grandparents and siblings; friends, colleagues and neighbours. One million precious, beloved, irreplaceable children of God.
“Today is a dark and difficult day, for our nation and our world. It’s a day to grieve with those who grieve. To pray for those who suffer. To cry out to God in prayer for an end to this pandemic. But it’s also a day to remember that it was into a troubled, fearful and hurting world that God sent His only Son. To remember that Jesus Christ came not just to walk with us, but to lay down His life for us. There is no agony, trauma or grief that we are left to face alone.”
The Salvation Army has been distributing food, PPE, hand-wash, and hygiene information to special projects in Pakistan, Mexico, Kenya, Zimbabwe, Ghana, and Mozambique. Its international-projects team leader, Ben Gilbert, said: “While living in the UK we have easy access to health care and clean water, many around the world simply don’t, and so the Salvation Army’s role in helping to keep people safe is essential. We rely on people’s kind donations to ensure this work continues.”
The UK recorded 7108 coronavirus cases and 71 deaths in 24 hours, on Wednesday. In a press conference, the Prime Minister said that the nation was at a “critical moment” in tackling the virus, and that he would “not hesitate” to bring in tougher restrictions if necessary. The Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, said: “We don’t have this under control at the moment.”
On Wednesday evening, MPs voted by 330 to 24 on a motion to extend the powers of the Coronavirus Act for six months. It allows the Government “to take emergency action in the national interest”, as it did when the lockdown was enforced in March. The Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, assured MPs that they would be given more room to scrutinise restrictions introduced to tackle the virus.
On Thursday, researchers at Imperial College London reported that the the R number (the virus’s reproduction number) appeared to have fallen since government measures, including the rule of six, were introduced.
Last week, the Government tightened lockdown restrictions in the north-east, affecting about two million people.
Burnley had one of the highest infection rates in the country this week: 269 cases per 100,000 people. It has since been overtaken by Knowsley, to the south. The Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, said on Twitter on Wednesday: “Prayers this morning for Burnley, a town I have grown to love and which now has the highest Covid rates in the country. The reasons are complex and multi-layered, but this pandemic is a big magnifying glass for pre-existing social inequalities.”
Mixing between households in any indoor setting, such as pubs and restaurants, was made illegal in the north-east from Wednesday, enforced with a maximum fine of £6400. It is also illegal for households to mix outdoors. Church services and community initiatives are, for now, among the exemptions (News, 25 September).
Mr Johnson apologised on Tuesday for adding to the confusion over the new rules in the north. Earlier in the day, he had said: “It’s six in a home, six in hospitality; but, as I understand it, not six outside.” He later posted an apology on Twitter, saying that he had “misspoken”.
He clarified: “In the north-east, new rules mean you cannot meet people from different households in social settings indoors, including in pubs, restaurants, and your home. You should also avoid socialising with other households outside.”
In the north-west, restrictions have been extended to Wigan, Stockport, Blackpool, and Leeds. The Area Dean of Blackpool, the Revd Peter Lillicrap, said on Wednesday: “The lockdown came suddenly, at midnight on Friday, with little notice. The new restrictions on numbers for wedding and baptism services have caused pastoral issues, and are difficult to explain.
“None the less, on Sunday, carefully prepared services under Covid-19 regulations were joyfully celebrated across Blackpool with increased attendance. Harvest services were held raising gifts of food for the local foodbank, and Blackpool was even able to host an ordination service for three deacons.
“Many churches continue to blend services in church with an online presence to engage with those who, for one reason or another, are not able to attend in person.”
The Archdeacon of Leeds, the Ven. Paul Ayers, said that there had been no change to the worship and work of the churches. “I am pleased to say that, among congregations, lay leaders, and clergy, there is not much evidence of confusion, and colleagues in the diocese have been providing support and guidance, which has been very well received. . .
“Many people report having more pastoral contact with each other than before. Most people are very prudent and cautious about maintaining social distance and hygiene, and every church I have visited has really good practices in place.”
Greater Manchester has been in lockdown since early August. During a debate in the House of Lords, last Friday, on the coronavirus regulations for the north of England, the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, said that, while he agreed that restrictions in his diocese were “proportionate to the risks identified at the time”, he had “serious reservations” about how and when (on the eve of the Muslim festival of Eid) they were introduced (News, 6 August).
“However urgently action may be required, the laws of this realm cannot be altered simply by a government minister declaring it so,” he said. “Change must follow regulations being laid before this House under the affirmative procedure. Only then can the public know what they must obey, and only then can our police enforce it.”
Dr Walker asked for reassurances that these “misleading messages” would not be repeated. Lord Bethall responded: “I completely recognise his points about the impact of bringing in some of these measures around Eid. . . We thought that we were leaving the time of lockdowns; it was only when the data showing that infection rates were rising emerged that we had to apply the handbrake and do a sudden turn. We learned a lot about the bruising impact of that sudden decision and its impact on trust, and we have moved on.”
In a Lords debate on Monday on the temporary provisions of the Coronavirus Act 2020, the Bishop of Rochester, the Rt Revd James Langstaff, agreed that “transparency, clarity, and consistency” were needed to ensure that restrictions were understood and followed. “If that is not the case, we risk a gradual falling away of willingness to live within the constraints. . .
“Even in normally docile Church of England congregations, who socially distance happily during worship, I note that, as they go out the door, they are rather more nonconformist in their behaviour. . . A sense of tiredness is settling in. . . We need to be wary of this tiredness, as well as the areas of more overt frustration in some people and places.”
London was identified by the Government last week “as an area of concern”, owing to a rise in hospital admissions. A lockdown of the capital is a possibility.
Read our leader comment on the latest statistics