The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 2) (Wales) Regulations 2020 impose temporary restrictions on gatherings of people and the opening of businesses and premises in Wales. This has been done to control the spread of coronavirus in Wales and to help protect the public from the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2).
The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 2) (Wales) Regulations 2020 allow places of worship and places which are licensed or approved, under Part 3 of the Marriage Act 1949, to conduct solemnisation of marriage and the formation of civil partnerships to open for that purpose. There are a number of obligations the Regulations place on those responsible for these premises. The relevant person must;
- Take all reasonable steps to ensure a 2 metre distance is maintained between households
- Take other reasonable measures to minimise risk of exposure to coronavirus
- Provide relevant information for those entering or working at the premises on how to minimise that risk
The Regulations also provide that households may only gather with others
indoors where they have a reasonable excuse. Reasonable excuses explicitly include attending a solemnisation of marriage or formation of a civil partnership for those who; are a party to the solemnisation or civil partnership formation, those who are invited and those who are a carer for a person attending. Gatherings, to a maximum of 30 individuals, are permitted outdoors. The Welsh Government is keen to ensure that the person organising the gathering complete a risk assessment on the outdoor space comparable to one required under regulation 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and take reasonable measures to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus.
The opportunity to marry or form a civil partnership is an important milestone in many people’s lives and the value that is placed on the union formed is recognised in the legal status that the marriage or civil partnership is afforded. Many people want to celebrate the occasion with receptions or other forms of social gatherings with friends and family. Many of the activities commonly associated with these celebrations pose a high risk of transmission of the virus, therefore, these are not currently permitted.
The number that are able to attend a wedding or civil partnership will be limited by the capacity of the venue once social and physical distancing measures are taken into account.
We must recognise that, globally, there have been many examples where ‘wedding receptions’ have been ‘hotspots’ for the spread of the disease. Tackling Coronavirus does not allow us to go further than ensuring those who, at this stage, want to marry or form a civil partnership, can do so. The form that these ceremonies can take will inevitably be limited by the requirements of social and physical distancing they can be attended by invited guests who would witness the formation of the legal, and where relevant, spiritual partnership that marriage or civil partnership entails. The number able to attend will be depend on how many people the place of worship, approved premises or Register Office can accommodate safely, observing the 2m physical distancing requirements.
It will be for places of worship and approved premises themselves to assess whether they wish to open for such ceremonies and to consider the necessary reasonable steps required to maintain physical distancing between members of different households and extended households during the ceremony. The Registration service provides a statutory service, and is able to facilitate marriage and civil partnerships since the easing of restrictions on gatherings for such purposes. However, it should be recognised that there may be circumstances where issues, such as numbers of staff who are self-isolating, may make it impractical to do so or may limit appointment availability.
Guests may attend the marriage ceremony or civil partnership formation, but they should recognise that we are making a limited exception to the restrictions that have been imposed as a result of a public health emergency. The overarching advice, therefore, is that people must only attend an event if invited and that the reasonable excuse for gatherings that has been established to allow this, extends only to those aspects which are essential to the solemnisation of the marriage or formation of the civil partnership.
It is, important to note that the Regulations allow for households to join together to become an extended household. Should this happen, that extended household is treated as a single household, and the restrictions on gathering will not apply between each of its members. Aside from those involved in and facilitating the ceremony and carers, the only exception to the requirement to be invited would be those who attend to exercise their right to raise a reason against or lawful impediment to the marriage or civil partnership.
This guidance does not replace guidance issued by the Welsh Ministers under the Regulations, in respect to all those who are subject to duties to take all reasonable measures to ensure 2 metres distance is kept between people in premises and to take other reasonable measures to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus.
Should any doubt arise between provisions in this guidance and the statutory guidance, the statutory guidance shall prevail. Additionally it should be noted that places of worship are permitted to open for communal worship and other ceremonies. Separate guidance is available for these purposes.
The Regulations make provisions that apply to those responsible for a place of worship, approved premises or Register Office. They provide the legal basis on which places of worship and approved premises can open for marriage and civil partnership ceremonies. Register Offices had not been required to close under the Regulations but the Regulations set out circumstances which amount to reasonable excuses under which people can gather within a building to take part in a ceremony, making their opening for these purposes practicable.
We would encourage Register Offices to put the necessary measures in place so that they can open to conduct ceremonies and administer the necessary processes to register the marriage or civil partnership, wherever reasonably practical to do so. We would also encourage Registrars to attend places of worship and approved premises to register a marriage or civil partnership, where their presence is required.
In the case of places of worship and approved premises, the decision whether to open for the purpose of solemnisation of marriage or the formation of civil partnerships is a matter for the persons responsible for the place of worship or approved premises itself. The Regulations do not require them to open.
It is for those responsible for the venue to establish the protocols necessary to maintain a 2 metre distance between households and this should include establishing a relevant capacity which would form the basis on which guests can be invited for the ceremony. The only exception to invited guests or those party to the ceremony, including those with a role to play in facilitating the ceremony, would be anyone who attends for the purpose of raising a reason against or lawful impediment to the marriage.
It should be noted that, for the purposes of marriage or civil partnership, the two individuals forming the union should be considered as part of the same household even where they have previously lived in separate households. This may mean the couple form a new household or that one party becomes absorbed into the others former household. Therefore, for the purposes of the ceremony, there is no requirement to maintain a two metre distance between the couple although other participants should be kept 2 metres apart wherever reasonably practical to do so.
The term “place of worship” is not defined in the Regulations. For the purposes of this guidance, the term includes a confined or enclosed space, which is used for religious ceremonies, collective prayer and worship, belief or similar gatherings, such as a church, gurdwara, mosque, temple, synagogue, prayer, meeting or related hall.
What does solemnisation of marriage or the formation of civil partnership include?
This has a particular meaning in law which includes the process by which the legal basis of a marriage or civil partnership is established and registered. In a faith context these ceremonies often have religious aspects which are integral and are therefore enabled by the Regulations. However, ceremonies which do not have the role of registering the marriage or civil partnership, such as blessing ceremonies, can take place outdoors, subject to the considerations set out below in respect of outdoor gatherings.
The common understanding of the term ‘wedding’ may include aspects which sit outside the legally recognised process. These aspects are not enabled by the Regulations. The distinctions here are the same as those already established in practise and procedure for licensing. For example, rooms in which a solemnisation of marriage or formation of a civil partnership cannot be used to also conduct a reception or social gathering. No food or drink should be consumed as part of the event unless required for the purposes of solemnisation.
The public health risks of a social gathering to accompany a wedding are significantly different to those of the solemnisation of marriage or formation of a civil partnership. Those who are in charge of the Register Office, approved premise or place of worship are requested to help participants understand the distinction when arranging a ceremony and should consider the necessary protocols to maintain it.
Indoor receptions are not permitted under the Regulations, although outdoor gatherings of up to 30 are allowed subject to conditions being met. The Welsh Government’s ‘frequently asked questions’ about the Regulations is regularly updated to provide advice about what people and businesses can and cannot do during the outbreak.
Taking all reasonable measures to maintain 2 metre distance
A key aspect of the Welsh Government’s response to the public health emergency is, currently, to place restrictions on gathering indoors and to limit outdoor gatherings to 30. Attending a marriage or civil partnership is now an exception to this rule, but is one that has been limited. Unfortunately this necessitates changes to traditional customs and practices in so far as this involves interaction between people from different households.
In most circumstances people are expected to practice physical distancing measures put in place by the place of worship, approved premises or Register Office. This means maintaining a distance of 2 metres wherever practical. The distancing requirement does not include between members of the same household (which includes an extended household), or a carer and the person assisted by the carer. Additionally, separate guidance makes it clear that it is not expected that children under 11 maintain physical distancing. Everyone should practise good hand and respiratory hygiene.
There may be certain aspects of the ceremony which would involve key participants breaching this 2 metre rule. Wherever possible alternative arrangements should be developed which maintain the 2 metre principle, for example rings might be cleaned and placed on a surface before being retrieved by a participant in the ceremony. However, there may be some aspects where the symbolism of the act is so integral to the meaning of the ceremony it may not be reasonably practical to maintain 2 metre distance. In those circumstances it will be important to consider the appropriate hygiene measures necessary to minimise the opportunity to transmit infection. Where participants, of different households, are required to come within 2 metres of each other, or it cannot be avoided, then protection such a face covering/mask should be worn. Other PPE will only be needed if there is direct contact between non household individuals.
A maximum number who can attend
The most obvious means of taking all reasonable measures to maintain a 2 metre distance between persons present, is to limit the number who may attend. This means a distance of 2 metres between members of different households/extended households, not between each individual person who is a member of the same household/extended household. In defining the number of people that can reasonably attend whilst still adhering to 2 metres distancing, the total floor space as well as likely pinch points and busy areas should be taken into account (e.g. entrances, exits, corridors, aisles) to calculate capacity within each place of worship, approved premises or Register Office.
In practice, however, it may not be practicable to assess in advance how many people from the same household/extended household will be sitting together at any particular marriage or civil partnership. We would therefore recommend that a figure should be calculated for each venue, based on the number that could reasonably be accommodated if every person sat 2 metres apart. This should, however, only be a guide and a degree of flexibility can be exercised based on the number invited from the same household/extended household who can sit together (which could enable more people to attend).
The maximum number who can attend will include those who are legally required to be in attendance such as the celebrant, authorised person and any registration officials. The couple and their witnesses will also be included in the maximum number. As the marriage or civil partnership itself must take place indoors it is the capacity of the building or room (once physical distancing measures are taken into account) which will determine the size of the invitation list and therefore the numbers who can gather.
The Regulations also allow up to 30 people to gather outdoors for organised events which can include wedding ceremonies but not the actual solemnization of marriage or formation of civil partnership. However other gatherings such as faith based blessing ceremonies or Humanist ceremonies could take place. Whilst there are no specific requirements around gatherings, the Welsh Government is keen to ensure that anyone organising such a ceremony takes all reasonable measures to ensure 2 metres is kept between people, not in the same household, and other reasonable measures to minimise risk of exposure to coronavirus.
Requirement for those attending to be invited
A means of ensuring that the maximum number that can attend is observed is by limiting attendance only to those invited. This is reinforced by Part 4 of the Regulations which limits those who can attend a marriage or civil partnership to those party to solemnisation or formation of a civil partnership, those invited to the ceremony and to any carers of those attending. This should be implemented by informing those who are organising the marriage or civil partnership that they must expressly invite those they wish to attend within the prescribed capacity, as determined by those responsible for the building.
Those attending from the same or extended household should travel together and should not travel with others from different households/extended household. Hired vehicles should be used only where they are equipped to maintain Covid-19 secure environment. Passengers should be limited to those from the same household/extended household and they should sit as far back from the driver as possible. General guidance on travel is available here: Travelling safely (coronavirus): guidance for the public
During the marriage ceremony or civil partnership formation
Arrangements should be put in place to ensure that upon arrival at the venue those attending can maintain 2 metre distance and are not required to congregate in confined spaces indoors or outdoors. Those attending should then be shown to their seats in accordance with arrangements put in place in advance that ensure that all can maintain a 2 metre distance. Those attending should be advised not to touch, kiss or come into contact with any article which is shared amongst the attendees.
Processes should be put in place to allow a suitable time to clean and disinfect the area in which a ceremony has taken place both before and after each ceremony, paying attention to frequently touched objects and surfaces.
Cleaning to an appropriate standard helps minimise the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19). Frequent cleaning of all surfaces, especially those most frequently touched, should be undertaken. Read guidance on cleaning to the appropriate standard. The guidance describes the cleaning recommended, the appropriate disposal of materials, the cleaning of equipment and hard surfaces, and the personal protective equipment (PPE) that should be worn (where necessary).
Practicing good hand hygiene is important. Those attending should have access to soap and water to wash their hands for at least 20 seconds or access to hand sanitiser when entering and leaving the building and after coughing, sneezing, blowing their nose or being in a public area. Appropriate arrangements for the safe disposal of tissues and paper towels should be made. Soap and non-disposable towels should not be shared in any circumstances.
Hymn books and other shared items should be removed, making use of bespoke order of service pamphlets if necessary. Collections should be arranged online rather than at the place of worship.
It is important also to limit the extent that people from different households congregate after the ceremony. Arrangements should be put in place to ensure that those attending can congratulate the couple and to greet family and friends as appropriate, while ensuring physical distance is maintained as they exit.
Singing, chanting and the use of musical instruments
People should avoid playing music or other background noise at volumes that make normal conversations difficult. This is because raised voices or shouting increase the potential risk of transmission through aerosol and droplets. Therefore spoken responses during marriages or civil partnerships should also be made in a lowered voice.
Activities such as singing, chanting, shouting and/or playing of instruments that are blown into should be specifically avoided. This is because there is a possible additional risk of infection in environments where individuals are singing or chanting as a group, and this applies even if social distancing is being observed or face coverings are used.
Where required for the marriage or civil partnership, only one individual should be permitted to sing or chant, and the use of plexi-glass screens and physical distancing should be considered to protect guests, as this will further prevent transmission and the screen can be easily cleaned. We recognise the importance of communal singing in marriages or civil partnerships, however this should not happen at this time, we suggest you consider using recordings that may be available to you. It is possible for more than one individual to sing or chant over the course of a ceremony but this should not be more than one at any particular time and each individual should be separate arrangements to protect from transmission. For example separate plexi-screens or cleaning between each individuals use.
You are advised only to play musical instruments that are not blown into. The decision whether to use and organ which requires air to be pushed through the mechanism during a ceremony should be based on a risk assessment and adherence with social distancing, hand hygiene and cleaning guidance. The use of alternative instruments such as an electronic keyboard or recorded music should be considered.
Ringing of bells, or similar, as part of the ceremony is permissible. However, people attending to peal bells should be included in the risk assessment process and subsequent protocols for attendance at the event. Specific provisions can be made where circumstances allow, such as separate entrances, and social distancing measures between bell ringers when ringing the bells and between them and the other attendees should be maintained at all times.
Any pre-requisite washing or ablution rituals should not be done at the venue but carried out prior to arrival. In the rare circumstances where this is not possible, washing facilities at the venue should be used in line with the physical distancing requirements and hand washing and respiratory hygiene measures applied. People must not wash the body parts of others and where rituals or ceremonies require water to be applied to the body, this should take the form of small volumes splashed onto the body, but not the face. Full immersion must be avoided and others should remain well distanced to avoid the chance of also being splashed. All participants in the practise should thoroughly wash their hands before and after the ritual.
Touching or kissing devotional objects should be avoided. Where shared items are required for the solemnisation of the marriage or formation of a civil partnership, handling should be reduced as much as possible and hands should be washed before and after as should the objects after each individual contact. Barriers and clear signage should be put in place where necessary.
Prayer books and other re-usable or communal resources such as service sheets and prayer mats should be removed from use. Single use alternatives could be provided. Items owned by individual participants, such as a pen or prayer mats, should be removed by the participant after the event.
The distribution of food or drink (consumables) must be avoided except where they are integral to the solemnisation process. If it is necessary to handle consumables then those giving and receiving the item should wash their hands before and after exchange and avoid contact between the parties. As 2 metre distance should be maintained where reasonable this could involve placing consumables on a table or similar procedure. Foodstuffs should be pre-wrapped and consumed only within individual households avoiding shared use of cutlery, crockery etc. Wherever possible ceremonial consumables should not be consumed at the time but taken away for later.
Those who can attend
Those experiencing coronavirus symptoms listed below should not attend:
- new continuous cough
- high temperature
- loss of or change to your normal sense of smell or taste (anosmia)
Those who are from a household that is self-isolating should not attend nor should those who have been contacted by Test Trace and Protect and advised to self-isolate.
The advice for those who are extremely vulnerable, (in a shielded group) or in an increased risk group continues to be that they should minimise their contact with others for their personal protection. However, they may decide to attend despite the additional risk this poses to them and should be facilitated to do so. Actions to reduce the risk of infection could include:
- The parties to the marriage or civil partnership should advise other attendees where there is an extremely vulnerable person attending and reiterating the need to stay at home if they are unwell, and to be respectful of the extremely vulnerable person’s need to avoid close contact at any point
- advising the extremely vulnerable person to travel to the venue via the safest route possible, preferably in a car by themselves, or with someone from their household
- Pre-screening questions prior to the ceremony taking place to ensure the couple and their guests are not experiencing coronavirus symptoms.
- Those responsible for the venues should provide clear advice and guidance to couples on the expected behaviour on the day of their ceremony to keep everyone safe.
- Officiants and Registrars have the right to suspend a ceremony if the couple or guests do not respect the measures put in place to ensure physical distancing, this being notified to the parties to the wedding or civil partnership in advance of the ceremony.
Participants who are at increased risk or extremely vulnerable should adhere to rigorous hand and respiratory hygiene and strict social distancing at all times but particularly whilst out of the home environment. Hand sanitiser or sanitising wipes should be used regularly whilst outside of the home. Read our guidance on the use of face coverings.
The restrictions imposed on the solemnisation of marriage and formation of civil partnerships, due to Coronavirus restrictions, may be frustrating for those not able to attend due to restricted numbers or other reasons. Provision has been made in the Regulations to allow ceremonies to be broadcast online, and those who wish to do this should be helped to do so where reasonably practicable. Recordings may also be made.
If this requires additional people to set up and operate equipment the number should be kept to an absolute minimum and should be included in the calculation of how many can use the building at any one time. They should also observe the social distancing, hand and respiratory hygiene, cleaning of equipment, singing and playing musical instruments advice.
Similarly those organising a marriage or civil partnership may wish to facilitate congratulations and good luck messages to be paid by electronic communications or on social media. They may also be encouraged to arrange a further celebration of the marriage or civil partnership after the public health emergency has come to an end. Relevant equipment used for broadcasting or recording should be cleaned before and after the event.
Extent of the guidance
This guidance is prepared for both places of worship, approved premises and Register Offices as these settings are allowed to open for the purposes of solemnisation of marriages and formation of civil partnerships.
Gatherings, to a maximum of 30 individuals, are permitted outdoors. The Welsh Government is keen to ensure that the person organising the gathering completes a risk assessment on the outdoor space comparable to one required under regulation 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and take reasonable measures to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus. The organiser should be able to control the outdoor space to maintain this COVID-19 security which means organisers should have exclusive use of the space for the duration of the event. Fences, signage and the use of representatives to guide attendees may all be appropriate mechanisms to establish control of the space and ensure physical distancing.
Control of the site may be established through ownership or with landowner’s permission. Organisers should be wary of circumstances which would undermine their control such as public rights of way across the site.
Liaison with Local Authorities and other authorities such as the Police may be necessary where land that is normally open to the public is to be used. The organiser should make sure that they communicate a clear understanding of the behaviours expected by those who attend. Where behaviours breach the protocols and risk the COVID-19 -security of the event, organisers should consider terminating the event or asking parties to leave. The organisers are responsible for managing the public health risks associated with the event.
Enclosed or partially enclosed spaces, as defined within the Smoke Free Regulations should not be used as these will increase the opportunities for the virus to spread. It is possible to use an awning or marquee which is open on at least three sides or a ‘gazebo’ which is open on all sides to provide protection from the weather. However, this should not undermine the COVID-19 security of the site and structures should be independent of each other and allow for social distancing between households/extended households to be maintained.
The numbers attending should be determined by the risk assessment but must not exceed 30 individuals. Attendance need not be by invitation only although organisers may choose to put procedures in place to manage attendance.
Test Trace and Protect
The Welsh Government Test, Trace, Protect strategy sets out the approach to tackling coronavirus, testing people with symptoms in the community, tracing those who have come into close contact with people who have tested positive for coronavirus and protecting family, friends and our community by self-isolating.
If it is possible to maintain a distance of 2 metres the Test Trace Protect strategy does not require a record of those who attend to be kept. However, there will be occasions, for instance as part of a marriage where this cannot be maintained. In those situations, a record of the time and date of the event and the names and telephone contact of those who have come within 2 metres of other households/extended households should be kept and handled in accordance with GDPR to protect the individuals’ privacy. These records should be kept for 21 days after the event. Read further guidance on how to maintain records and on compliance with GDPR.
Relationship with the law governing marriage and civil partnership, including legal requirements in respect of Church in Wales (Anglican) marriages
Nothing in the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 2) (Wales) Regulations 2020 amends the law as it relates to marriage or civil partnership. All the requirements of notice, registration, and so on apply as normal. We would encourage Registrars to facilitate these processes wherever practicable. All marriages apart from Anglican ones,require civil preliminaries to be taken via registrars.