CHURCHES in Scotland will have to close from Friday until at least the end of the month, as part of a new lockdown announced by the First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon.
Speaking in the Scottish Parliament on Monday, Ms Sturgeon announced that, from midnight on Tuesday, there would be “a legal requirement to stay at home except for essential purposes. This is similar to the lockdown of March last year.”
The number of people permitted to gather outdoors will be reduced from up to six people from two households to a maximum of two people from up to two households, she said.
Ms Sturgeon announced several other measures which will come into force on Friday, including the closure of places of worship. “It is with real regret that we consider it necessary for places of worship to close during this period for all purposes except broadcasting a service or conducting a funeral, wedding, or civil partnership,” she said.
“I’m well aware of how important communal worship is to people, but we believe this restriction is necessary to reduce the risk of transmission. While up to 20 people will still be able to attend funeral services, wakes will not be possible during January, and a maximum of five people will be able to attend wedding and civil-partnership services.”
Ms Sturgeon continued that schools in Scotland would be closed to most pupils until 1 February. This would be reviewed in mid-January, she said.
Ms Sturgeon described “the new faster spreading variant of the virus” as “a massive blow”. “To ensure that the vaccine wins the race [against the virus], it is essential to speed up vaccination as far as possible,” she said. “But to give it the time it needs to get ahead, we must also slow the virus down. And, because it is now spreading faster, that means even tougher restrictions are necessary.”
In a pastoral letter to congregations of the Scottish Episcopal Church, on behalf of the College of Bishops, the Primus, the Most Revd Mark Strange, wrote on Monday that the speed of transmission of the new variant had “made it quite clear that the position of Places of Worship was becoming more and more difficult to sustain”.
“The reclosing of our churches is difficult, especially for those who have had the privilege of meeting together over the past few months, yet it is now what we must do,” he continued. “The provision of Provincial online worship will continue and many of our churches will meet together via a variety of platforms. We must continue to pray for each other, for the communities we serve and for the authorities charged with protecting the nation.”
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Scotland opposed the closures, however. In a statement issued on Tuesday, they said: “No evidence has been forthcoming to justify the inclusion of places of worship as sources of infection. Without such scientific evidence these restrictions will appear to Catholics to be arbitrary and unfair.
“Moreover, a significant number of other sectors similarly restricted last March alongside public worship — such as construction, manufacturing and elite sports — have now been left free to continue in operation.”