COVID-19: New MHCLG guidance on singing

On 26 March 2021, the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government (MHCLG) updated COVID-19: guidance for the safe use of places of worship and which now includes the following advice relating to singing:


Singing, chanting and the use of musical instruments

COVID-19 spreads from person to person through small droplets, aerosols and through direct contact. Singing, playing some musical instruments, shouting and physical activity increases the risk of transmission through small droplets and aerosols.

Singing in Step 1:

Before 28 March

  • Indoors or outdoors: Where singing or chanting is essential to an act of worship, this should be limited to one person wherever possible. Exceptionally, where it is essential to the service, up to three individuals should be permitted to do so.
  • Strict social distancing should be observed and the use of Plexi-glass screens should be considered to protect worshippers and the singers. Communal singing should not take place.

From 28 March [Palm Sunday]

  • Indoors: – small groups of singers will be allowed to perform, or rehearse for performance, only where essential to an act of communal worship. This should be limited to as few singers as possible, with social distancing being maintained at all times. Communal singing should not take place.
  • Outdoors, in the grounds or the outside space of a place of worship: When communal worship takes place outdoors, the congregation may join in with singing, and should follow the principles set out in the performing arts guidance. This includes ensuring that congregation members follow social distancing rules. Social contact limits apply, meaning that households, support bubbles or groups of 2 must not mingle. Communal singing in other public open spaces should not take place.

From 29 March

  • indoors: guidance and rules remain the same as from 28 March
  • outdoors, in the grounds or the outside space of a place of worship: when communal worship takes place outdoors, the congregation may join in and should follow the principles set out in the performing arts guidance. New social contact limits apply.

For further information, including guidance on singing in other settings or outside of communal worship, please refer to the performing arts guidance.

Key principles to follow

Steps should be taken to reduce the risk of transmission. This includes limiting the number of individuals participating as far as possible.

If a place of worship is being used as a venue for rehearsing or performing, you should follow the performing arts guidance.

Where singing, chanting or musical instrument performances take place as part of the act of worship:

  • Think carefully about the need for singing or performance. Take account of the wider health context in your area and your participants, particularly if vulnerable individuals are involved.
  • Ensure that anyone with COVID-19 symptoms (or who has been in contact with others who have symptoms, or who has been told to self-isolate) does not attend a place of worship or participate in singing activities (even if they have no symptoms).
  • Where music plays a big part in worship, and recordings are available, we suggest you consider using these as an alternative to live singing or performing.
  • Avoid playing music at a volume that makes normal conversation difficult or that may encourage shouting when people will be trying to converse before or after worship.
  • Spoken responses during worship should also not be in a raised voice.
  • Any instrument played during worship should be cleaned thoroughly before and after use.
  • Any performers (for example a church choir) should be positioned in a way that avoids face-to-face performance, as far as possible.
  • Limit the duration of any singing, as far as possible.
  • Good ventilation plays a crucial role in reducing transmission. Do what you can to improve ventilation to ensure plenty of fresh air whenever possible, including opening windows.
  • Always ensuring there is a gap of at least 2m between any performers and the first row of worshippers. Further mitigations like screens or other barriers between performers worshipper may also be considered.
  • If worship takes place inside, the congregation should not participate in any activity that can create aerosols, including singing, shouting and chanting. This follows the advice generally for the Performing Arts.
  • The maximum number of people present should take into account the area of the space and the requirement to maintain 2m social distancing at all times.

Comment

Additional guidance has now been issued by the Church of England and the Royal School of Church Music. The Church’s COVID-19 Advice on the Conduct of Public Worship, v3 includes:

2. What is considered as a place of worship?

The government has defined a place of worship as follows:

‘A place of worship refers to a building used for regular religious ceremonies, communal worship or similar gatherings by religious organisations. It includes the use of surrounding grounds, for example, adjoining carparks, courtyards or gardens for which the venue managers are also responsible.

The guidance also covers premises when being used for religious gatherings, even when their primary purpose is not for religious gatherings, such as a community centre. These premises will only be able to be used where they are permitted to be open and additional guidance may be applicable.

This guidance does not cover public parks, private homes, cultural sites or other open spaces, such as woodlands which may be used for religious purposes. If people do want to engage in worship in these spaces, then the guidance relevant to that place should be adhered to.’

18. Can we sing?

From the 28th March indoors: a single small group of singers will be allowed to perform, or rehearse for performance, only where essential to an act of communal worship. This should be limited to as few singers as possible. Communal singing should not take place and strict physical distancing should be observed. From the 28th March outdoors: when communal worship takes place in the grounds or the outside space of a place of worship, the congregation may join in with singing, and should follow the principles set out in the performing arts guidance. This includes ensuring that congregation members follow physical distancing rules. Social contact limits apply, meaning that households, support bubbles or groups of 2 must not mingle. Communal singing in other public open spaces should not take place.

From the 29th March the new social contact limits apply, meaning the Rule of 6 applies unless all involved are from the same household or 2 linked households. The Royal School of Church Music (RSCM) has produced more detailed resources on singing and music, which can be found here.

19. Can our worship band play?

Please see the above guidance for singing and the Governments performing arts guidance. The number of musicians leading worship should be kept to a minimum and instruments that are blown into should be avoided.

Cite this article as: David Pocklington, "COVID-19: New MHCLG guidance on singing" in Law & Religion UK, 26 March 2021, https://lawandreligionuk.com/2021/03/26/new-mhclg-guidance-on-singing/

7 thoughts on “COVID-19: New MHCLG guidance on singing

  1. I don’t understand how the Government can say “small groups of singers will be allowed to perform”, because I understood that communal singing – even with a large group of singers or even the whole congregation – is not illegal (though against the Government’s advice/guidance).

    “Allowed” by who?

    • The relevant legislation, The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Steps) (England) Regulations 2021, SI 364, uses the concept of “Permitted organised gatherings”, S5, for which the gathering organiser or manager has i] undertaken a risk assessment, and ii] taken all reasonable measures to limit the risk of transmission of coronavirus, S6.

      At the present time, Step 2 restrictions apply, and these are detailed in Schedule 2 which defines the restrictions on gatherings, and a number of exceptions. Exception 16 relates to communal worship, for which the gathering organiser or premises manager is required to take “the required precautions in relation to the gathering”. These precautions are not included in the legislation, but are in the guidance, i.e. the duty to take precautions is defined in the legislation, but the performance of the duty is contained within the guidance, which includes a mix of mandatory and non-mandatory language – “must” and “should”.

      The use of “allowed” occurs only once in the guidance, and appears to be an unfortunate choice of wording – replacing “will be allowed to perform” with “may perform” (as used in the following paragraph) would perhaps convey the meaning more clearly.

      • Thanks David. So provided a church has carried out a risk assessment and taken steps to minimise risk as far as possible, congregational singing is allowed?

        The more I read about these laws the more barking mad and unenforceable they seem.

        • Certainly not. The guidance is clear in that singing indoors should be performed “by single small group of singers in cases where it is essential to an act of communal worship”. “If worship takes place inside, the congregation should not participate in any activity that can create aerosols, including singing, shouting and chanting. This follows the advice generally for the Performing Arts.”

          For singing outdoors, in the grounds or the outside space of a place of worship: when communal worship takes place outdoors, the congregation may join in with singing, and should follow the principles set out in the performing arts guidance.

          Although not widely publicized, there is a tranche of scientific work regarding the generation of droplets and aerosols when singing which supports this approach.

          The organizer of a service would be failing in their legal duty if they did not take account of the guidance which advises against congregational singing indoors. With regard to enforceability, congregational singing (should it occur) is pretty obvious, and given the interpretation of the legislation and guidance by the Church of England, other faith groups and music groups (such as the RSCM), would receive little support.

          • Yes, I see the guidance. But it is all “should”, not “must”. I am not asserting that singing is a good idea or is without risk, I am asking whether it is actually illegal.

            The organiser has a legal duty to “take account” of the guidance, but as far as I understand it they have NO legal duty to *obey* the guidance. The guidance itself says that where the word “should” is used, “this is not a legal requirement under law”.

            Some congregations may decide that congregational singing is worth the risk. By my reading of the law and guidance, they are free to to make that decision. Many will disagree with it, including the CofE and other organisations, but that is immaterial to the law.

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