Latest Restrictions in places of Worship - Guidance from the Methodist Church
Following the announcement by the Prime Minister on 8 December to move to Plan B measures (ENGLAND ONLY) to combat the spread of the Omicron variant, a number of restrictions will affect those worshipping, using or working within Methodist church property settings. We will continue to monitor Government guidance and provide updates or further details as they become available:
What are the main considerations for using our buildings following Government Plan B guidance?
1. Is it a legal requirement to wear face coverings in a Place of Worship?
YES - All those using a place of worship or ancillary buildings have to wear a face covering by law from Friday 10 December 2021. The Government guidance also outlines situations where individuals may be exempt. This is outlined here - Face coverings: when to wear one, exemptions, and how to make your own - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk). There are reasonable exemptions from this, while someone is leading worship or giving a reading for example. For specific guidance on singing see below.
Can we still use our church buildings?
YES - there are currently no restrictions on continuing to use our church buildings. Although the Government is now advising office workers to work from home if they can from Monday 13 December. Churches should therefore consider how this advice affects those who work or use the church building and if temporary adjustments can be made during this period. For further information refer to - Coronavirus: how to stay safe and help prevent the spread - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk).
Do we need to ask building users for a NHS Covid Pass?
NO – places of worship and ancillary buildings will not be required to ask for evidence from building users, see Coronavirus: how to stay safe and help prevent the spread - GOV.UK (www.gov.uk) under the heading Required use of the NHS COVID Pass. This includes activities such as communal worship, and ceremonies to mark life events such as weddings and funerals. Note: activities which take place after these events in the building such as wedding receptions, will only need to request a NHS Covid Pass if there are 500 or more attending indoors.
Can we still sing in church?
YES – the current Government changes have not advised against singing, and current guidance suggests that a reasonable excuse exemption within the current regulations will allow the removal of a face covering whilst singing if an individual wishes to do so. It is suggested that this should be balanced against the specific setting and risks, such as smaller spaces and limited natural ventilation. Therefore churches councils may wish to take a specific local decision on this matter.
Should we continue to ventilate indoors or meet outdoors if possible:
YES - If this is not possible or practical, Government SAGE data suggests that opening windows regularly for 10 minutes, or a small amount continuously, can help reduce the risk of transmission compared to no ventilation. The use of CO2 monitors can also help highlight areas of poor natural ventilation in a building. There is also an ‘easy read’ version of the Government’s more detailed ventilation guidance, which can be found here - Ventilation of indoor spaces to stop the spread of COVID-19 (easy read) (publishing.service.gov.uk).
Do we need to socially distance?
NO – there is currently no Government requirement for the reintroduction of social distancing within church settings. A level of distancing to protect those who are vulnerable can be considered though as part of a specific risk assessment for the room or activity. This is a local decision for the managing trustees, based on the local situation.
Should we continue to get tested and self-isolate if needed:
YES - Anyone with symptoms of COVID-19 should self-isolate and take a free PCR test as soon as possible. Anyone who tests positive must self-isolate. Equally, anyone notified they are a close contact of someone who has tested positive should also take a free PCR test as soon as possible and self-isolate if required. Stay at home if you are feeling unwell.
Should we continue to encourage good hygiene practice:
YES - Provide hand sanitiser in convenient areas throughout the building for everyone to use; keep established practices of cleaning surfaces touched regularly and rooms with high use by different groups such as toilets and kitchens.