WEDDINGS in England are to be limited to a maximum of 15 people, down from 30, under new coronavirus restrictions announced by the Prime Minster on Tuesday.
The new rule, which will come in on Monday 28 September, applies to both the wedding ceremony and reception. The permitted total includes the couple, and the officiant as well as guests.
While numbers for funerals will remain at 30, after this date other life-cycle events, including baptisms and ordinations, will no longer be exempt from the rule of six for social gatherings, which was introduced by the Government last week.
Updated guidance published on the Church of England website on Thursday afternoon, however, states that if these events “follow a pattern of communal worship — where all attendees arrive, worship and leave together in groups of no more than six people — then these services can continue to be attended by as many people as can safely accommodate in the Place of Worship while adhering to social distancing requirements.”
Mr Johnson told the House of Commons on Tuesday that the new restrictions could be imposed for up to six months in a bid to curb the rapid rise in infections. Although fewer people are dying from the disease than six months ago, cases in England have soared by tens of thousands in recent weeks, particularly among people under the age of 34.
“We always knew that, while we might have driven the virus into retreat, the prospect of a second wave was real. I’m sorry to say that, as in Spain and France and many other countries, we’ve reached a perilous turning point,” Mr Johnson said.
In a follow-up address to the nation broadcast from Downing Street that evening, he said: “I am deeply, spiritually reluctant to make any of these impositions, or infringe anyone’s freedom, but unless we take action the risk is that we will have to go for tougher measures later, when the deaths have already mounted and we have a huge caseload of infection such as we had in the spring.”
The Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Revd Graham Usher, wrote on Twitter on Wednesday: “Just so very conscious of the rollercoaster that @DioceseNorwich clergy and lay leaders are on at the moment responding to Covid-19. Many are already tired and are responding to other folks’ emotions in all of this. Thank you for all you are doing and the assurance of my prayers.”
On Monday, the Archbishop of Canterbury wrote on Twitter that it had been “clear” from a government medical briefing that day “that the next six months are going to be challenging. It’s an urgent reminder that we must keep supporting each other — and especially those who are struggling financially, physically, or emotionally.”
Higher infection rates in the north-west of England have led to local lockdowns, and infection rates are also increasing in London, although no lockdown has yet been imposed. The UK Government Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, and the Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Whitty, advised the Government that another nation-wide lockdown was needed to curb the spread of the virus more quickly and prevent a second wave.
Archbishop Welby wrote later on Monday: “It was powerful to hear from Prof Chris Whitty that there’s no such thing as personal risk-taking with this virus. If we increase our own risk, we put others at risk too. In this crisis we are all neighbours. Let’s renew our commitment to loving and caring for each other.”
Other restrictions announced this week include table-service only in all pubs, bars, restaurants, and other hospitality venues in England, and a closing time of 10 p.m. Face coverings remain mandatory on public transport and in shops, but now apply to retail staff. The fine for non-compliance has been increased to £200.
Mr Johnson also urged employees to work from home wherever possible, pausing his campaign, launched in July, to encourage a return to offices and boost the economy in city centres.
The new rules only apply to England. Currently, in Wales, for example, 30 people are still permitted to attend a wedding — 20 in Scotland. In Northern Ireland, only outdoor weddings are able to take place, unless someone is terminally ill, in which case the numbers are limited at the discretion of the venue.
Churches and cathedrals have already had to strip back celebratory and ceremonial services this year. Just 79 people attended a service in Westminster Abbey on Sunday to mark the 80th anniversary Battle of Britain. And the opening of the legal year at the Abbey on 1 October — usually involving a stately procession of hundreds of judges in formal attire — is set to look very different with a small, socially distanced congregation.
It remains unclear whether all church choirs are able to continue singing and rehearsing under the rule of six.
Government guidance, updated on Thursday of last week, states: “Small groups of no more than six professional or non-professional singers can sing in front of worshippers both outdoors and indoors. Singing in groups should be limited to this group of people and should not include congregation participation.”
There are, however, mitigations for professional groups under the Government’s performing arts guidance, including for “theatres, concert halls, and other entertainment venues that are already able to host larger numbers, and are COVID-secure in line with the relevant guidance”.
Updated information from the RSCM, after studying the advice, concluded that choirs were, in principle, able to continue. “If your choir has more than six members (noting that arrangements for under-18s are separate and excluded from this), this is only possible if your choir effectively operates as [multiple] social groups of six — i.e. there must be no mingling between groups, including before and after services and/or rehearsals, and employing appropriate social distancing etc. within each group.
“If you don’t think the choir can avoid mingling at an activity, it should not take place.
“Under-18 singers are exempt from new legislation; it is imperative that adults maintain social distancing at all times.”
The C of E guidance currently states: “We understand that there is an ongoing discussion between Government departments on how the new rules will impact amateur choirs in places of worship and the guidance relating to places of worship will be updated as soon as possible.”
Last week, the Government also made it mandatory for hospitality venues, including places of worship, to have a system in place to collect NHS Test and Trace data and keep this for 21 days.
This should include at least one name, contact number, date of visit and arrival and, where possible, departure time, it states. From Thursday, which is when the NHS Covid-19 app is due to become available, it will also be a legal requirement for the same venues to display an NHS Test and Trace QR poster. The C of E has released separate guidance on this.