THE sudden imposition of lockdowns in areas of northern England reporting big increases in coronavirus cases drew sharp criticism this week.
After the announcement of the lockdown by the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock, on Thursday of last week, the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, posted on Twitter: “Good example of shambles you get when important new rules are announced late evening.” The “inadequate detail but immediate effect” negated the opportunity for urgent and vital questions to be answered, he suggested. “Pray Government is learning and will do better in future.”
The new lockdown covers much of greater Manchester, parts of east Lancashire, including Blackburn, and the Bradford, Kirklees, and Calderdale districts of West Yorkshire.
Dr Walker accepted that focusing on particular places, and specific forms of behaviour, such as households’ mixing, made sense to avoid general lockdowns; but “announcing them late at night, to come into effect three hours later, was (insert own word for opposite of sense)”.
The Team Rector of Great Snaith, in East Yorkshire, the Revd Eleanor Robertshaw, commented on Twitter: “Senseless? Definitely discombobulating. . .”, while the Vicar of St Mary with St Peter, Oldham, the Revd Derek Palmer, wrote: “I have to bury my military background deep, deep, deep in order to avoid ‘epithets unbecoming’.”
Mr Palmer later said: “The announcement was unfortunate, but we had already picked up that there was a bit of a spike here; so we thought something might happen. It just came a little earlier than expected. People are just saying: ‘This is what we have to do, so we will just get on it.’ They have got some common sense in Oldham.”
Manchester City Council declared a major incident, but the leader, Sir Richard Leese, urged residents to stay calm, saying that the declaration was simply a way to use extra resources if needed. The new measures forbid people from different households to meet each other in their homes or in gardens, while also banning separate households’ mixing in pubs, restaurants, and other hospitality venues.
Manchester diocese posted updated guidance on its website (manchester.anglican.org/coronavirus), which includes details concerning the national introduction of mandatory face coverings in churches from tomorrow.
One affected area in Greater Manchester is Wigan, whose churches are in Liverpool diocese. The Area Dean, the Revd Philip Anderson, said: “We woke up on Friday morning to find the rules had changed. On Sunday, there was more of a sense than in previous weeks of ‘This is something we really must not take for granted.’”
He is also trying to determine how people can receive communion when face masks are mandatory. “There is definitely an appetite for people to receive the sacrament; so it would be a real shame if that were to be suspended again. I have a sense that there is a weariness among people, but I haven’t encountered much resistance; people really appreciate how much it all means to them.
“Looking back to where we were four months ago, this feels like an inconvenience, compared to the level of fear that was around at the beginning, when we were bracing ourselves for a wave of burials. I don’t think there is a great sense of gloom.”
The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, posted on Twitter: “Our watchwords remain: 1) local decisions for local situations within the law; 2) safety and assurance first.”
In West Yorkshire, there was confusion over when the lockdown would end. Bradford Council said that measures would be reviewed on 15 August; but the Department of Health suggested that an assessment could be undertaken by this weekend.
Figures from Public Health England, released on Tuesday, for the week up to 31 July, show that Bradford had the highest coronavirus infection rate in Yorkshire, and the third highest rate in the country.
There was also surprise at the ban on wedding receptions introduced last Friday, with less than 24 hours’ notice. Graham Podesta, whose daughter Jamie had planned a gathering for 30 guests at a golf club in north Kent, told The Times: “She’s just sitting here in floods of tears. It was only a couple of weeks ago that Boris Johnson said you could have up to 30 people at a reception from August 1.” He criticised the “lack of compassion” shown by the Government in making the last-minute changes.
The Government faced further criticism over the testing of care-home residents. The Times reported that the Government had abandoned a pledge to test all people in care homes regularly throughout the summer; and a BBC Panorama documentary, broadcast on 30 July, said that more than half of care providers in England had been pressured into taking hospital patients who had not been tested for coronavirus.
The Bishop of Ripon, Dr Helen-Ann Hartley, posted on Twitter: “I’ve written & posted previously about the crisis in the #carehome sector, and about the Government’s neglect of the most vulnerable in society (that tweet certainly got a few reactions, early on in #lockdown). Yet here we again, months down the line, and nothing has changed.”
New light. The lockdown has given the Church an opportunity to consider how it works in the future, the Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, has said. “It comes at an interesting moment for us in our history,” he told listeners to BBC Radio Leicester on Monday. “We take the long view. You can look back to periods when there were very significant events which caused the Church to think about how we do things and re-imagine what is the appropriate way for our prayers and worship for a new context.
“We have been learning a lot through this lockdown period, particularly in the use of technology. It has opened up some exciting new possibilities for us. This has been a big positive for us. Almost overnight, we had to change how we did church. It was extraordinary, suddenly seeing lots of churches moving things online. For some, that was relatively straightforward; for others, it was a huge learning curve, but we did it.
“And now a lot of our churches are doing things online. I heard recently of one church where they have screens up for worshippers, and others are joining in by video conference call; so we have ‘mixed-mode church’.
“I think that it is probably going to be the way it is for a while. You can now access worship from all over the world, if you want to join with people at St Paul’s Cathedral in London, or in New York, or wherever; so it opens up a world of new possibilities.”
He continued: “We are seeing something of a renaissance in people joining online services; so a lot of people who weren’t coming to church are doing it from the comfort of their own home where they can just simply observe and get a sense of what church looks like in the 21st century, with no commitment. That is of real interest.
“The next step is how can we very gently encourage people to go on a journey of exploration, and discover more about the Christian faith and what it means to live out that faith in everyday life.”