Today, 27 July, the Government has issued an update to COVID-19: guidance for the safe use of places of worship and special religious services and gatherings during the pandemic which deals specifically with special religious services and gatherings
It notes that communal worship or prayer can be attended by more than 30 people but only if the venue can safely accommodate larger numbers in a way which complies with COVID-19 secure guidance. The updated guidance provides the following checklist:
“Do – Follow the mitigations that places of worship have put in place, for example using booking systems, changes to entrances and exits or staggered arrivals.
Do – Continue to broadcast services online for those who need to stay at home or are able to mark the event at home to avoid large gatherings.
Don’t break social distancing (2 metres between households, or 1 metre with mitigations, if 2 metres is not possible), and especially avoid touching people outside of your household.
Don’t interact socially outside of your household, or the group (of 2 households) that you went to the place of worship with.
Do – If you can, you should also wear a face-covering – you must wear these if you travel on public transport or visit a shop.
Do – Make sure you provide contact details to the place of worship to support the NHS Test and Trace service designed to track and help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Don’t use shared areas for ablutions – wash at home, unless in an emergency.
Do – Remove communal resources such as prayer mats. Single-use alternatives should be removed after use and disposed of by the worshipper.
Do – Make sure only you touch your belongings, for example, shoes if removed.
Do – Take home personal items brought in to aid worship, such as a prayer mat.
Do – Speak into a microphone to lead devotions or sermons to avoid shouting. Avoid sharing microphones between different speakers.
Do – Use a plexiglass screen in front of a single individual raising their voice, singing or chanting at the front.
Don’t – No one else should sing, shout, or raise their voice, beyond that one individual behind plexiglass.
Do – Continue to broadcast services online for those who need to stay at home.”
As to gatherings for worship outside, the guidance notes that “prayers in the park and other outdoor spaces are an important feature of Eid Al-Adha” and reiterates that it is against the law in England to participate in a gathering of 30 or more people in a public outdoor space unless the gathering has been organised by a business, a charity, a benevolent or philanthropic organisation or a public or political body and that the organiser must also have carried out a full risk assessment and taken all reasonable measures to limit the risk of transmission of coronavirus:
“Local authorities will make decisions on applications for prayers in public places, including those on private land which is not attached to your place of worship. Councils will be putting the public health and safety needs of communities first when making these decisions.”