On 19 July 2021, we entered Step 4 of the Government’s Covid-19 Response Roadmap. Click here to access Government guidance for the safe use of places of worship.
The CBCEW Guidance is offered to the Dioceses of England and Wales as the country moves into Step 4 (19 July) of the Government Covid-19 Response Roadmap published in February 2021. This date has been delayed by five weeks as the Government wanted to ensure that a greater proportion of the public had received the vaccine before moving to this point.
It is important to reiterate that as Step 4 is reached, the general principles of continuing to create a safe environment in places of worship and their ancillary buildings are not abandoned. Indeed, the way forward must be a collective endeavour of all involved in the daily life of the Catholic Church in England and Wales. Recognition of the presence of the virus in the population means that certain preventative practices will still be required, and this is important to ensure that Diocesan trustees are seen to be discharging their Health and Safety duties.
The Health and Safety Executive have issued new guidance for employers and for organisations, and this makes clear that a duty to keep premises safe continues beyond the removal of any Covid-19 legislation.
Indeed, the Government has stated that changes moving forward would be on a risk-based approach for all organisations with the responsibility to ensure appropriate measures to safeguard public health sitting with the management of the organisation.
Although any measures adopted locally will not have the “rule of law,” there is a strong emphasis on common sense and risk averse activities to continue to mitigate against the transmission of the virus which is still prevalent in society.
CBCEW guidance has been prepared following discussions with officials from Public Health England and HM Government Places of Worship Task Force. Key to implementation of this guidance is the Government’s understanding of moving away from centralised detailed regulation to prudent local judgements adopting a continuing cautious approach to easements. The key watchwords for the future steps are discernment of local prevailing conditions and careful consideration of what mitigations are needed in the light of these.
The following general principles apply:
Prevailing Local Conditions
All places of worship should always consider the prevailing local conditions for the virus. Special consideration should be given to rates at which people are being vaccinated in the locality, the prevalence of new variants of the virus, the local rates of hospital admissions and any local public health advice. These data can be obtained from the Director of Public Health at the local authority (in England) or the Local Health Board (in Wales), or the local Environmental Health Department, and it is important to have knowledge of these figures.
It is important to mitigate against the risks of virus transmission. Although the vaccine rollout programme is very successful to date, over 85% of adults having had one dose and 64% two doses, the risk of transmission is still live and there are enough people not protected by vaccination to result in significant hospitalisations. However, HM Government has clearly stated that the progression from infection to hospitalisation and ultimately to deaths has been appreciably reduced through the vaccine programme. Most people admitted to hospital currently are only partially vaccinated or not vaccinated at all and communities should continue to encourage people to participate in the vaccination programme. Churches should continue to provide hand sanitiser at entrances and exits and face coverings are strongly recommended to be worn by those in church. General cleaning to a good standard, using commonly available cleaning fluids and detergents, with attention to frequent touchpoints is the standard to continue. This is consistent with the advice from Public Health England. While the virus can land on surfaces and can infect people if they touch those surfaces and then touch their mouth, nose or eyes, this risk is significantly lower than the risk from aerosol or droplet spread which is mitigated against with good ventilation and a face covering. There are key actions which churches and parishes have been doing, and should continue to do, even after 19 July which significantly reduce this risk. These are noted in the Appendix (1) at the end of this page.
Social Distancing and Capacity of Churches
From 19 July, there will be no legislation on social distancing in England but regulations will continue in Wales for now, and thus churches may increase their capacity, recognising that for the time being different rules apply for England and Wales. Care has to be taken to ensure that churches continue to be places where people feel safe to gather to worship. Each local community should examine the local conditions regarding the virus, and adopt an attitude of care for the people who desire to attend Mass. Suggestions to help this include (but are not limited to):
The adoption of methods such as these will build confidence in the people that the church remains a safe place to enter and worship. Each church should continue to assess the local situation regarding the virus and adapt as necessary to the local conditions. This may mean that in areas of very high transmission, churches may have tighter measures than in areas of lower transmission.
Indoor congregational singing will be permitted from 19 July. The use of cantor groups and other choirs is now permitted. It is recommended that singing should be phased in gently as part of worship over the summer period and that face coverings should be worn by members of the congregation whilst singing together, until infection levels reduce.
As the restrictions are lifted public acts of worship can return to normal practice, with some exceptions for the time being. All of the above mitigations in creating safe spaces should be considered by the local communities as means of promoting public confidence in the Covid security of churches. In addition the following are recommended as good practice.