This Guidance is offered to the Dioceses of England and Wales as the country moves into Step 4 of the Government's Covid-19 Response Roadmap. This comes into effect on Monday, 19 July 2021.
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We are at Step 4 of the Government’s COVID-19 Response Roadmap
The government has updated its response roadmap for the easing of COVID-19 restrictions to combat the virus. It states that each step in the roadmap will be guided by data not dates and the four tests set out in the roadmap.
Government guidance for the safe use of places of worship.
The Welsh Government continues to update its guidance on the safe opening of places of worship and prayer during the coronavirus pandemic. You can read the guidance here.
You can download the guidance that follows on this page as a printable PDF.
This 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.
This 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.
A. Celebration of Holy Mass
The following is recommended for the celebration of Holy Mass from the 19 July within the churches and communities in England and Wales:
Baptisms now have no restrictions on numbers attending however it is recommended that a single family should have children baptised at any one celebration. Baptisms involving multiple families and children should be avoided for now.
Confirmations can be celebrated as usual with the caveat that the laying on of hands should be by the celebrant extending the hands over the confirmandi and the Sign of Peace be a gesture without any physical contact.
If this takes place in a hospital or care home, then the minister should take advice regarding the level of PPE required from the institution. The laying on of hands should be by extension over the sick person and the anointing can be done as indicated in (5) above. The Sign of Peace should be a gesture without touch. It is also important to note that Government regulations have now been introduced requiring people who regularly visit care homes to be vaccinated in England. This will include sick visitors from parishes and clergy. The legislation is likely to come into force in October 2021. A separate note will be produced on this in due course.
The Bishop and those who lay hands on the one to be ordained should sanitise their hands before and after the action. The anointing should be done as per (5) above by the bishop. Care should be observed to minimise the number of people handling the symbols of ministry which are given and received as part of the rite. The Sign of Peace should be a gesture without touching.
There is no restriction on the number of people that can attend marriages in the Church. Marriages in the form of a Nuptial Mass should observe the recommendations for the Celebration of Holy Mass. Those within a Marriage Service outside of Mass should apply the usual norms.
A physical barrier, such as a Perspex sheet or heavy curtain, should cover the grille between the confessor and the penitent. Good ventilation of the penitent’s side of the confessional should be deployed to prevent stagnation of air.
Confessional boxes should be cleaned after the period of confessions has ended, and the doors left open to facilitate good ventilation.
There is no restriction on the number of people that can attend funerals in the Church however, good collaboration with Funeral Directors over the local conditions and regulations regarding the place of committal should continue. Funerals in the form of a Requiem Mass should observe the recommendations for the Celebration of Holy Mass. Other funeral services should follow the ritual as published.
Home visits can now take place by priests, deacons and Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion and other volunteers. The minister to the sick or housebound person must take care to ensure that a minimum number of visits takes place to different homes in a single session of visiting. There are three important steps to avoid possible spread of the virus, especially if someone is infected but asymptomatic:
Parish social activities can be resumed from 19th July. It is strongly recommended that a risk assessment for both the activity and the space is completed for the gathering. Government guidance for the use of multi-purpose facilities is referenced (Note: This has not been updated since 17 May).
It is recommended that a blended mode of catechesis takes place moving forward, with a combination of both in-person meetings for those involved as well as online sessions. The requirements for Covid security should be determined locally, following any Government guidance that becomes available.
CIS Ltd has provided guidance for the safe use of parish halls and other ancillary spaces for church premises which sets out the obligations on both Church authorities and groups and hirers. This can be found in the Appendix (3) below.
Rev. Canon Christopher Thomas
Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales
Recommended key mitigating actions against virus transmission in Churches which should continue post 19 July 2021.
Guidance has been in place for some time on cleaning spillages of bodily fluids to prevent spread of pathogens such as Hepatitis, E Coli, Norovirus and so on. You may already have guidance in place for this from your health and safety adviser or insurer, in which case this should be followed.
Body fluid spillage kits are strongly advisable, especially those which have granules which can absorb fluids and prevent splashes on those cleaning the spillage or others. They provide materials and instructions for safe cleaning and disposal and can be obtained from good cleaning suppliers.
Following manufacturer’s instructions on these is important because the content of kits differ. Such kits also contain cleaning fluids which are less likely to cause harm to surfaces than making up solutions of hypochlorite bleach.
Spillages of body fluids such as blood, sputum, vomit, faeces or urine can present an infection risk for a variety of infections and should be cleaned up immediately. Cleaners should treat every spillage of body fluids or body waste as potentially infectious.
Specific guidance applies from government to play groups for children.
Cleaners should wear protective gloves and aprons and use disposable wipes wherever possible. Eye
protection is advised if there is risk of splashing.
For a spillage of blood, a 10,000ppm hypochlorite solution (1:10 chlorine releasing eg bleach to water) should be used. Staff should follow the procedure below. Even better is to use a body fluid disposal kit which has granules in it which absorb and solidify the spillage.
Solid or semi-solid matter (eg faeces) in the spillage should be removed first as this can inhibit the
Chlorine releasing disinfectants such as hypochlorite should never be used directly on urine spills as
this can release irritant chlorine gas. Urine should be cleaned up using towels and the area cleaned
with detergent before applying disinfectant.
Catholic Insurance Service (CIS Ltd) has provided guidance for the safe use of parish halls and other ancillary spaces for church premises which sets out the obligations on both Church authorities and groups and hirers.