On 10 February, the Diocese of London published a Guidance note in the event of Pandemic Virus which concluded:
“If the risk is raised, or you wish to, you could plan for business continuity. The ‘Reasonable worst case scenario’ is a tool used in emergency planning. RWCS for a pandemic is that we may have a period of up to 14 weeks when a large part of the population is ill. Though the risk is moderate, we could ask now how would the parish or church community function if up to 50% of its people were off sick?”
Much of the current advice from the Church of England is based upon the premise that there is no immediate risk or need for action, but suggests that it is as well to be prepared for what might happen. This advice includes:
- Archdeacon of London: Coronavirus (Covid-19) guidance for parishes, Re Guidance note in the event of Pandemic Virus, updated 12 February 2020.
- Revd Dr Brendan McCarthy, the Archbishops’ Council’s National Adviser on Medical Ethics and Social Care Policy, Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance for parishes, updated 3 March 2020 [See below].
- The Rt Revd Donald Allister, Bishop of Peterborough in an Ad Clerum, dated 20 February 2020.
[Since this guidance was issued, there have been a number of updates within the Church of England and elsewhere, and these are now listed in a separate post, which itself is frequently updated.]
Although written with different audiences in mind, a common thread is “Keep an eye on the daily updates from official sources, not the heightened concerns sometimes seen in the media.” At this point we should add that although we provide links to advice provided by “official sources” including the Church, we ourselves have no expertise in this area.
With regard to present and future planning, it appears that not all eventualities have been addressed in a single document; importantly, this does not address certain aspects related to Lent, including: imposition of ashes at the start of Lent; veneration of the Cross on Good Friday; and more generally, sprinkling with holy water and water in the holy water stoups &c. Nevertheless, much of this can be addressed following the best-hygiene practices identified in the guidance.
More comprehensive advice has been provided for the Churches in Ireland by the HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre, (“Ireland’s specialist agency for the surveillance of communicable diseases”), COVID 19_Guidance for religious services V1. This latest version is dated 27 February 2020. In addition to addressing some of the lacunae in the UK advice (particularly on pages 4 and 5), it takes a stronger line on preventative measures, and also advises: “Have a plan for how the church will continue or suspend its activities in the event of religious leaders/clergy becoming ill with COVID-19”.
Plans for “business continuity” should be within the portfolio of any responsible organization, and the advice from the London diocese identifies that if the level of risk is raised, this would be a prudent approach for the Church.
In addition to planning for a period of up to 14 weeks when a large part of the population is ill (under a RWCS scenario), the impact of “self-isolation” of groups or individuals for 14 days who have recently been to one of the areas listed in current FCO travel advice need also to be taken into consideration. In a statement to the House on 26 February 2020, The Secretary of State for Health and Social Care Matt Hancock said inter alia:
“If anyone has been in contact with a suspected case in a childcare or an educational setting, no special measures are required while test results are awaited. There is no need to close the school or send other students or staff home.
Once the results arrive, those who test negative will be advised individually about returning to education. In most cases, closure of the childcare or education setting will be unnecessary, but this will be a local decision based on various factors including professional advice.”
Specific issues for the Church include:
- the potential problem for those ministering to people in self-isolation.
- reduction in visitors by Cathedrals and churches for whom entrance charges &c are an important component of their income stream.
- Self-quarantine arising from groups attending meetings, synods, choir tours &c.
In the case Annual Church Meetings (ACMs) for the election of churchwardens and Annual Parochial Church Council Meetings (APCM) for the election of the PCC, both of which must take place between 1st Jan and 31st May, extant legislation empowers the bishop to extending the time for holding meetings, Section 10, Churchwardens Measure 2001, and Church Representation Rule 78(5).
On 10 February 2020, The Health Protection (Coronavirus) Regulations 2020 were laid before Parliament, and under Section 1(1) came into force immediately. Their territorial application is England, and their territorial extent is England and Wales. Extracts from Explanatory Notes include:
2. Purpose of the instrument
2.1: This instrument makes provision for the purpose of enabling a number of public health measures to be taken for the purpose of reducing the public health risks arising from the new strain of Wuhan novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV).
3. Matters of special interest to Parliament
Matters of special interest to the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments
3.1 The instrument is made under the emergency procedure set out in section 45R of the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984 (c. 22). The Regulations are made without a draft having been laid and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament … The Regulations cease to have effect at the end of the period of 28 days beginning with the day on which the instrument is made unless, during that period, the instrument is approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.
6. Legislative Context
6.2 Part 2A of the 1984 Act, as inserted by the Health and Social Care Act 2008 (“the 2008 Act”), provides a legal basis to protect the public from threats arising from infectious disease or contamination from chemicals or radiation, and includes powers to impose restrictions or requirements on people, and in relation to things and premises, for use in rare circumstances where voluntary cooperation cannot be obtained. Overall, the amended 1984 Act sets out a framework for health protection which requires much of the detailed provisions to be delivered through regulations.
7. Policy background
What is being done and why?
7.1 The amendments to the 1984 Act made by the 2008 Act comprehensively modernised the legal framework for health protection. Part 2A of the 1984 Act, as inserted by the 2008 Act, takes an “all hazards” approach to health protection, where the criterion for action is based on the potential of an infection or contamination to present significant harm to humans, rather than on specific infectious diseases.
7.2 The only current legal option to enforce a quarantine period is via a Part 2A order under the Public Health (Control of Disease) Act 1984. The relevant local authority is able to file for a Part 2A order which is then made by a Justice of the Peace. The Secretary of State currently has no powers to apply for a Part 2A order, to enforce quarantine or to place appropriate restrictions on individuals outside of this process.
7.3 … there are two major reasons to introduce these new Regulations. Firstly, that it is critical for the UK Government to take all reasonable steps to limit onward transmission of the novel Coronavirus, where possible. Novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) was recently declared by World Health Organisation a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). It is also essential that the Government retains public trust in its public health protection measures …
7.5 These Regulations would apply not only in the case of any individuals seeking to leave supported isolation, but in any future cases during the current novel Coronavirus incident where an individual who may be infected or contaminated could present a risk to public health, and where there remains a realistic prospect of preventing an epidemic in the UK. In other words, if and when virus becomes established with sustained widespread transmission in the UK there would no longer be reason to apply these regulations. The regulations only come into force once SSHSC has made a public declaration that there is a serious and imminent threat to public health and the measures in the regulations would be effective in further transmission. Once this declaration is revoked, the powers in the regulations would no longer be exercisable.
As we note above, it is advisable to monitor the daily updates from official sources, and not the heightened concerns sometimes seen in the media, and also in the social media in which everyone appears to be an expert on coronavirus (COVIS-19).