Over recent weeks, the Welsh Government has made various changes to its COVID-19 Regulations and has published new guidance for places of worship and other specific settings. Some other organisations have also updated advice and guidance which could be useful for places of worship and community centres as they prepare, update and implement their statutory risk assessments.
The Welsh Government has published a helpful, “unofficial” version of The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 5) (Wales) Regulations 2020, as amended, showing the effect of recent changes. On August 27, Regulation 20(2)(aa) was added, meaning that it is not necessary for those attending weddings, civil partnerships or “an alternative wedding ceremony” (such as a service for the blessing of a marriage) to wear face coverings. This does NOT, however, change the situation regarding funerals or other indoor services of worship, where face coverings remain mandatory.
It has suspended the 2020 Regulations enabling the making of emergency arrangements for the disposal of the dead should numbers of deaths exceed the capacity of crematoria and cemeteries: see Coronavirus Act 2020 (Suspension: Transportation, Storage and Disposal of Dead Bodies etc) (Wales) Regulations 2021.
Welsh Government guidance (now called ‘action cards’) for retail sites, cafés, major events, visitor attractions, sports and leisure centres and children’s play areas – including facilities of these kinds provided by faith communities – is available here. Guidance for children’s and youth work and childcare is available here: Reasonable measures action cards for businesses and organisations: coronavirus.
Guidance on volunteering has also been updated, and because most tasks in places of worship and faith communities are carried out by volunteers, this guidance will be helpful to places of worship in making arrangements for keeping their volunteers safe.
Most important, on 25 August the Welsh Government published the Places of worship and funerals: potential reasonable measures action card (coronavirus). Places of worship are under a legal duty to “have regard to” this guidance in drawing up and implementing their risk assessments. It is shorter than previous versions and largely replicates the general advice given by the Welsh Government to public spaces and activities: Alert level 0: guidance for employers, businesses and organisations.
Cytûn states that the most important additional issues for places of worship are as follows:
- Singing: the guidance is as follows: Singing or chanting increases the amount of aerosol expelled into the air from people’s mouths. Reducing the amount of singing or stopping singing can help to reduce the risk of transmission. If singing or chanting takes place, other mitigations should be put in place, which could include improving ventilation, moving the activity outdoors, increasing the space between people, or having fewer people present.
- The presence at funerals of individuals who may have tested positive: – As (exceptionally) a person who has tested positive for coronavirus may attend a funeral of a family member or close friend on compassionate grounds, taking particular care in relation to any such person present – including by requiring that person to wear a face covering, maintaining strict physical distancing, reducing the length of the funeral service, ensuring good ventilation and holding as much of the funeral as possible outside.
- Cleaning: Regular cleaning and disinfection of surfaces and equipment. Allowing for breaks between service and ensuring thorough and regular cleaning, using disinfectant in high footfall areas and in high contact touchpoints such as door handles or rails.
- Where objects are touched as part of worship, clean the object between each worshipper that touched it and require worshipers to sanitise or wash their hands before and after touching the object.
- Providing hand sanitiser and encouraging regular hand washing. The Health & Safety Executive has provided guidance regarding cleaning and hand sanitising materials here.
Brief guidance is also provided about ventilation, limiting numbers in attendance, face coverings, providing information to the public, etc. The guidance should be read in full when drawing up a risk assessment. It should be noted that a number of the actions suggested (such as asking for evidence of vaccination) are suggestions to be considered, rather than Regulations.
The Welsh Government has also published downloadable bilingual signage to help fulfil the legal duty to provide such information in both languages.
[With thanks to the Revd Gethin Rhys of Cytûn.]