CONGREGATIONS in the two largest cities in Australia are facing complex plans for returning to church for services in the coming weeks as they cautiously move out of lockdown.
Both Sydney and Melbourne have been in hard lockdown for months, after an outbreak in June of the Delta coronavirus variant in Sydney, which spread to Melbourne in early August. The cities are currently increasing vaccination rates after a slow start caused by severe vaccine shortages.
Once double-dose vaccination rates reach 70 per cent, and then 80 per cent in the coming weeks and months, greater freedoms will be introduced. Mandatory vaccination requirements, however, will be enforced for a range of community settings and activities.
In Sydney, rules require that, in the first stage of return to church, when 70 per cent of the adult population is vaccinated, only those fully vaccinated will be allowed to attend. Final plans for the situation when higher levels of vaccination are reached are still being developed.
In the Victorian reopening plan, Melbourne churches will have different congregation sizes and densities permitted, depending on vaccination levels; churches are still grappling with how this will work.
A Melbourne regional bishop, Dr Paul Barker, said that he was concerned that those who could not show proof of vaccination would be turned into “the lepers of Jesus’s day”. He said that the Church would support vaccine requirements, but only on a temporary basis, as otherwise society could end up divided.
The RC Archbishop of Melbourne, the Most Revd Peter Comensoli, said that he was not comfortable with a “vaccine passport” requirement for attending worship, and described the practice of religion as a human right.
The President of the Islamic Council of Victoria, Adel Salman, said that only fully vaccinated people should be worshipping in mosques; policing this would, however, be a problem.