WEDDINGS, receptions, and wakes of unlimited guests will be permitted from 21 June in England — one of the few exceptions to a four-week delay in the planned easing of all lockdown restrictions on that date. The Prime Minister announced the delay on Monday night.
The Government had previously planned to lift all legal restrictions on social contact, mask-wearing, and indoor and outdoor gatherings, including mass events such as sports matches and weddings, and reopen all venues, including nightclubs, on 21 June — the last stage of its planned four-step roadmap to releasing England from 16 months of lockdowns.
Concerns about the rapid spread of the Delta variant, first seen in India, however, had led to the decision to delay, to give an estimated 10 million more people a chance to receive their second Covid vaccine, Mr Johnson told a Downing Street press conference. Last week, zero deaths within 28 days of a positive Covid test were recorded; this has since risen to eight. More than 1000 people have been hospitalised with the virus, up by 150 on last week.
The link between infection and hospitalisation had been “weakened” but “not severed”, he said. “We must be clear that we cannot simply eliminate Covid — we must learn to live with it. And with every day that goes by we are better protected by the vaccines and we are better able to live with the disease.”
All adults over the age of 25 are now eligible to book their vaccine and uptake has been highest among young people. As of this week, more than 71 million people have received at least one dose of the vaccine; 29 million people have received two doses, which is understood to minimise transmission and give much fuller protection from new variants.
From Wednesday, adults aged 21 and over will be offered the vaccine. By 19 July — from which date Mr Johnson was “confident” all restrictions would be lifted — the aim is for all adults aged 18 and over to have been offered or given their first dose.
Mr Johnson continued: “We will monitor the position every day and if after two weeks we have concluded that the risk has diminished then we reserve the possibility of proceeding to step four and full opening, sooner.”
From 17 May, under stage three of the government roadmap, weddings and wakes of up to 30 guests were permitted, and the 30-person limit on funeral attendance in places of worship was scrapped (News, 21 May). Since then, the number of people permitted at funerals has been limited to the Covid-safe capacity of the building.
From 21 June, however, the legal limit on guests at weddings and wakes — in places of worship and other venues — will also be lifted, providing social distancing can take place and to be determined by the Covid-safe capacity of the buildings. Face masks must continue to be worn indoors, except when eating or drinking.
The government guidance for places of worship remains the same, with groups of six people from six different households, or two households of unlimited numbers permitted to sit together. Full guidance on weddings was published later on Monday. Table service will be required, and no indoor singing or dance floors will be allowed, although the couple will be permitted to have the first dance, and dancing itself is only advised against. A dance floor outside is also advised against, but is not illegal.
All other social restrictions laid out under stage three remain in place until at least 19 July. Under these rules, hugging and social distancing between family and friends remains a “personal choice” to be exercised with caution. Unlimited groups of professional singers can continue to perform indoors, for example at receptions or places of worship, and the limit on groups of amateur singers indoors remains at six. Currently, groups of 30 amateur singers can perform outdoors.
As before, groups of 30 people from unlimited households may meet outdoors, and groups of six people from up to six different households (or two households of any size) are able to meet indoors and stay overnight. Pubs and restaurants are permitted to welcome people indoors, though social distancing continues to limit numbers.
The Bishop of London, the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, who chairs the Church of England’s Covid Recovery Group, said on Monday: “The Prime Minister’s comments about lifting the limit of 30 people attending weddings will be a relief to many. We will await the detail from the Government about what it means in practice and will update our guidance to churches accordingly.”
The overall delay would be “a blow to many”, she said, and, while the vaccine programme had “undoubtedly” saved lives, “we do have to take the spread of the more transmissible Delta variant very seriously. . .
“Thankfully church buildings remain open for public worship and prayer. While we look forward to restrictions on worship being lifted in the near future, I will continue to press for ongoing appraisal of choral and congregational singing. We will also update our guidance on public worship where necessary in light of today’s announcement and I understand that the Business Committee of the General Synod will be looking at options for the planned July meeting of Synod in the next few days. Most of all, however, we do have hope. This pandemic has been a trial for us all but we put our trust in God and have hope that there are better times to come.”
In Scotland, the number of wedding guests varies from 50 to 200, depending on the restriction area and venue; in Wales, wedding ceremonies are limited to the capacity of the venue, and masks must be worn. In Northern Ireland, there is no limit at ceremonies, but a maximum of ten people can be seated at each table at receptions, and dancing is restricted to the wedding couple.
A new study by Exeter University and the Open University, published on Monday, suggests that the disruption caused by the coronavirus has highlighted again the question of reforming marriage law to allow couples to marry in a greater number of venues as well as outdoors. Currently, in England and Wales, weddings can be held only in register offices, Anglican churches, registered places of worship, or approved premises such as hotels.
Professor Rebecca Probert of the University of Exeter and Dr Stephanie Pywell of the Open University surveyed 1449 people whose plans to marry in England and Wales had been affected by Covid-19 during the first lockdown in summer 2020. Of these, 625 had been unable to marry on their intended wedding date as it fell during this period; only ten had managed to bring the date forward and marry before the start of lockdown; and the rest had had to postpone.
A further 793 couples had been planning to marry between the end of lockdown and the end of 2020 but had had to change their plans in some way. The remainder of people surveyed had either been prompted to marry in England and Wales on account of Covid-19, or had decided to postpone their wedding indefinitely, were no longer planning to marry, or were unable to marry.
Dr Pywell said: “The limited number of venues in which couples can marry made it impossible for most couples to marry during the pandemic, although they were able to do so in some other countries. We argue that the laws governing marriage in England and Wales must be fit for purpose in the 21st century, so that couples can marry with relative ease if there is a similar nationwide crisis in the future.”
Professor Probert said: “Reform is clearly needed, but any such reform has to be holistic rather than piecemeal, and we hope that our findings will strengthen the case for making weddings law simpler and more flexible for the future. The fact that for much of 2020 and for 2021 so far couples were either unable to marry, or unsure as to whether their planned wedding would go ahead, led many to reflect on just how important it was to them. A wedding should be available to couples at the best and worst of times.”