On 21 July 2021, the Church in Wales issued updated guidance on the “Level 1” following changes in COVID-19 regulations by the Welsh government, which became effective on 17 July 2021. It also notes that a detailed document has been published regarding the “Level 0” restrictions which it is hoped to introduce fully on August 7. Extracts from the “Level 1” guidance are reproduced below.
With a very significant proportion of the Welsh population having received two doses of the vaccine, the general position with COVID-19 is that the consequences of contracting the virus are generally less significant but, with greater freedoms, the likelihood of contracting it is much higher. There are people in the communities in Wales who cannot receive the vaccine and so it is important to remain cautious and not reduce the management of the risk of transmission.
Welsh Government guidance
Welsh Government has announced the main changes in Covid regulations. These can be seen at:
- Coronavirus (COVID-19
- Current restrictions: frequently asked questions
- Gathering with other people: current restrictions
Church in Wales guidance [Emphasis in original]
The changes from Saturday 17th July mean the following for churches and church halls:
- There is now a limit of 1000 people (seated) and 200 people (standing) gathering indoors. However, the requirement to maintain two-metre social distancing is still in place so the capacity of buildings will still be reduced. However, for community activity in buildings this change should now give greater flexibility.
- The wearing of face coverings indoors remains a requirement.
- The need to provide for hand sanitising and premises cleaning remains.
- Households and extended households (“bubbles”) can sit together but still with social distancing between other individuals or bubbles.
- We believe it is lawful for groups of six people from six households to sit together at a church service, wedding or funeral. Such a group should be seated socially distanced from other groups. However, for places of worship Welsh Government’s advice is that where possible “people avoid congregating with people they do not live with”. Furthermore, the guidance on congregational singing makes it clear that such a group of six should be social distanced from each other, if singing. Churches who would like to introduce seating in groups of six from six households should:
- Carefully review your risk assessment to consider whether allowing groups of six can be safely managed
- Only allow it if congregational singing is not part of the service
- Record contact details for each member of the group of 6 to aid later contact tracing if someone tests positive
- Encourage it only between persons known to each other – rather than strangers. That way people can more easily check that each member has been double-vaccinated and is symptom free.
- The serving of tea and coffee etc after services can now take place indoors. You should update your risk assessment to allow for people to sit in groups of six with social distancing between groups for this activity. Refreshments might more easily be organised outdoors where refreshments can be served ‘take-away’ style with people collecting from appropriately distanced stations.
- Welsh Government continues to advise that congregational singing should only be considered where incidence of Coronavirus cases are low but they no longer define what ‘low’ means. The original suggestion was 50 cases in 100,000 of population but all local authority areas are currently above this level. Churches should carefully consider the Welsh Government advice on congregational singing in their local context.
- It is important to emphasise to congregations and attendees that the restrictions in Wales have not yet been relaxed as much as in England
- Generally, we support a cautious approach. Maintaining existing precautions and service arrangements seems a sensible approach at this time.
- A detailed document has been published regarding the “Level 0” restrictions which it is hoped to introduce fully on August 7
Under these restrictions, the legal requirement to wear a face covering indoors (except in hospitality venues) will continue, and the legal requirement to prepare and implement a risk assessment for all activities will continue. [The Church in Wales is] involved in detailed discussions with Welsh Government and Cytun about the implications of keeping such a legal requirement without specific regulations in place regarding, for example, distancing, and about what guidance Welsh Government will be preparing for places of worship in these new circumstances.
The CiW has updated its guidance for Alert Level 1 and the various documents are listed below:
- Opening Churches Guidance Alert Level 1 – 17 July 2021
- Guidance on re-opening of church halls 17 July 2021
- Guidance on Celebrating Holy Communion 17 July 2021
- Guidance on Conducting Baptisms 17 July 2021
- Guidance Marriages and Funerals 17 July 2021
- Guidance on Singing, Music and the Playing of Organs 17 July 2021
- Guidance on opening churches for visitors 17 July 2021
- Opening churches for visitors – Risk assessment Form
Incumbents and PCCs in the Church of England are guided by the advice Opening and managing church buildings in step 4 of the Roadmap out of Lockdown, V.1, issued on 19 July 2021. The CiW Guidance is broadly similar although there are important differences, primarily as a consequence of the more prescriptive legislation in Wales. This new guidance supports a cautious approach, suggesting that the retention of existing precautions and service arrangements would be a sensible approach at this time. Importantly, it notes that there are people who cannot receive the vaccine and so the church must remain cautious and not reduce its management of the risk of transmission.