COVID-19: places of worship and the latest Welsh Regulations: update

Following the latest announcements by the Welsh Government over the weekend, the Revd Gethin Rhys, Policy Officer of Cytûn, has issued a further update – reproduced with permission – on the position as it affects places of worship.

Over the weekend, Welsh Government announced amendments to the Covid-19 regulations in Wales, which begin the process of moving restrictions in Wales from Level 4 to Level 3 in line with the Government’s latest coronavirus control plan. The First Minister said in media interviews yesterday, Sunday, that he will announce the next series of steps on 31 March, but these are not expected to start coming into force until 12 April at the earliest. Here are the changes relevant to places of worship and faith communities which came into force on 27 March:

1. Organised outdoor activities are now permitted for children up to 18 years of age. Welsh Government’s detailed guidance can be found here. The guidance begins as follows:

outdoor activities run for the development and well-being of children and young people, such as sports clubs, drama classes, parent and toddler groups, youth groups and religious groups are allowed. This applies to children under 18 (or persons who were aged under 18 on 31 August 2020). There is no limit on the number of children and young children that can attend, but organisers should be mindful of the space available. Indoor activities and residential activities are not currently allowed. Organisers have a duty to take all reasonable measures to ensure that these activities take place in a way that minimises exposure to coronavirus. Therefore, they should consider the space available to allow social distancing wherever possible with children and to limit the number of children who can attend in order to achieve that.

2. Organised activities are not permitted indoors, but throughout the Level 4 restrictions, it has been permissible to arrange child care sessions. The guidance for these can be seen here and they are applicable to unregistered child care, such as that arranged by some places of worship during worship services. This guidance is statutory (that is, organisers must have regard to its content) and is clear that great care must be taken with indoor child care. This caution is to be increased further with school-age children because the guidance for schools and providers advises against mixing children beyond their school or household groups unless absolutely essential. Welsh Government guidance for places of worship states that supervised children’s activities such as Sunday schools and madrassas are prohibited. However, childcare providers can continue to provide their usual services in a place of worship.

Having studied all the guidance, Cytûn’s opinion is that it is reasonable for the authorities of places of worship to consider offering child care for children under school age so that the older members of their household can attend in-person worship, but we would advise against arranging indoor “child care” for school-age children. As many services of worship are currently shorter than usual, we believe that it may not be unreasonable to expect school-age children to stay with their household throughout the worship. Each place of worship/faith community that decides to arrange child care should record in writing its decision on this matter and the reasons for it and its full risk assessment, in case questions arise.

In response to requests from us, we have received from the Welsh Government the following advice regarding two matters which may be of importance over Easter and during better weather”

3. Worship out of doors: Outdoor worship can happen on land which is attached or within the curtilage of a place of worship as it would be seen as an extension of a place of worship. If you plan to do this it may be prudent to let the local authority and the police know of your plans.  This does not mean that you can use public land or private land for worship and does not include drive-in services or parades. It is permissible, with great care, to arrange for groups to lead singing outdoors, but congregational singing is not currently permitted. The Welsh Government’s current guidance regarding singing can be seen here.

4. We have received from Welsh Government the following advice regarding the use for worship of buildings other than places of worship: Local authorities can give permission for a premises to open for its express use as a place of worship. This could be an option if you anticipate larger congregations than can be safely accommodated in your normal place of worship. You will need to discuss this with the relevant local authority and liaise with the police.

The Welsh Government emphasises that in both cases (3 and 4) above, all the usual reasonable measures and mitigations described in the Guidance for Reopening Places of Worship are relevant. In reality, their application will need to be more rigorous as people will be gathering in unfamiliar circumstances. Therefore, managing the movement of people as they arrive and leave and during their time in the venue or outdoor setting to avoid household mixing, signage, handwashing, cleaning, collecting contact details will all be important.

Gethin Rhys

Gethin adds that while every care has been taken in preparing this Update, it does not constitute legal advice and should not be used as such – which goes for us as well.

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