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Purpose

This guidance has been written specifically with places of worship and gatherings of faith and belief groups in mind. It is of a general nature and should be considered alongside other specific guidance to ensure that places of worship can offer COVID-19 secure environments. It aims to provide useful information, links and practical advice to support those responsible for reopening places of worship (should they wish) for communal worship and religious ceremonies in accordance with Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 2) (Wales) Regulations 2020.

Should any doubt arise between provisions in this guidance, and the statutory guidance issued by the Welsh Ministers under regulation 13 the statutory guidance shall prevail.  Additionally, this guidance does not constitute legal advice, those responsible for places of worship should seek their own independent legal advice where necessary.

Each individual place of worship should consider this guidance within the context of its own specific circumstances, including consideration of the size of the building, how it is organised, operated, managed and regulated. This guidance does not impose a duty or requirement on places of worship to reopen. The persons responsible for the place of worship will have the freedom to decide when they consider it is safe to reopen. They should remain closed if they are not satisfied they are able to take reasonable measures to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus, as required under regulation 12.

It will not be possible to open for a full range of activities for some time to come. Some places of worship may choose not to reopen until a later date, open at a slower pace and/or continue to use online technology to carry out faith and pastoral activities.

The Welsh Government is grateful to the Wales Faith Communities Forum and the Re-opening Places of Worship Task and Finish group for their advice and support in preparing this guidance. The Welsh Government will continue to work with the Wales Faith Communities Forum and belief groups to develop and plan for a phased and safe reopening of places of worship and the organisation of outdoor gatherings. This guidance will be reviewed and amended as the situation and scientific advice around risks of transmission changes and further amendments to the Regulations made. 

Introduction

Places of worship play an important role in providing spiritual leadership for many individuals, and in bringing communities together. However, their communal nature also makes them places that are particularly vulnerable to the risk of spreading coronavirus (COVID-19).

The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 2) (Wales) Regulations 2020 impose temporary restrictions on gatherings and movement of people 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). 

Anyone responsible for a place of worship which opens will be subject to the duty to:

  • take all reasonable measures to ensure 2 metres distance is kept between persons on, or waiting to enter, the premises (other than members of the same  household or extended household, or persons providing care to a person within the household)
  • take other reasonable measures to minimise risk of exposure to coronavirus (such as measures which limit face to face interaction or maintain cleaning, handwashing and respiratory hygiene)
  • provide relevant information for those entering or working at the premises on how to minimise that risk.

Definitions

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, within buildings or outdoors, which is used for religious or belief ceremonies, collective prayer and worship or similar gatherings, such as a church, gurdwara, mosque, temple, synagogue, prayer rooms, meeting houses, vestries and halls where worship may be carried out.

In this guidance, the term a “religious or belief body” refers to an organised group of people who regularly meet for religious worship or to uphold and promote philosophical beliefs and meet regularly for the purpose.

For the purposes of this guidance, the term “worshippers” is used to describe individuals, households or extended households who engage in a permitted activity. The same definition also applies to participants who engage as part of their non-religious belief structure.

Religious and belief ceremonies include funerals, the solemnisation of marriages, the formation of civil partnerships, baptisms (see further advice below) and other ceremonies that celebrate rites of passage. These may be part of a communal services or an event in their own right.

Worship or belief gatherings outdoors can include private or led prayers, devotions or meditations although this should be subject to social distancing, hand washing and respiratory hygiene and other guidance within this document about singing, the use of water, food and drink. Life event ceremonies or rituals, with a religious or belief content, such as Humanist weddings, blessing ceremonies, Bar or Bat mitzvah are also included.

Permitted use: Communal worship and religious ceremonies including led prayers, devotions or meditations by a Minister of Religion or lay person

Places of worship may open for communal worship, including prayers, devotions or meditations led by a Minister of Religion or lay person.

Religious ceremonies can be held as part of communal worship or as an event in their own right, such as a funeral or wedding, such ceremonies that do not form part of communal worship should continue to be by invitation only as described in the guidance for funerals and weddings.

Worship and belief ceremonies can be held outdoors in the limited circumstances described in this guidance.

Places of worship and faith and belief communities should adapt their services and ceremonies, especially where they would otherwise have taken place over a number of hours or days, to ensure the safety of those present and minimise the spread of infection. It is advised that the ceremonies and services should be concluded in the shortest reasonable time as this reduces the risk of transmission.

Once completed, participants should be encouraged to leave the premises promptly and to maintain 2 metres distance from members of other households, to minimise the risk of contact and spread of infection.  The rules on gathering allow attendance at a place of worship as a reasonable excuse, however that should not be for a social purpose. If appropriate, you should reconfigure spaces to enable those in attendance to be seated rather than standing which reduces the risk of contact.

It is recommended that, where possible, places of worship continue to broadcast worship or other events to avoid large gatherings and to continue to reach those individuals who are self-isolating or vulnerable to COVID-19.

Singing, chanting and the use of musical instruments

We recognise the importance of music and singing in worship, religious and belief ceremonies. However, activities such as singing, chanting, shouting 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. This applies equally for indoor and outdoor worship and ceremonies.

Wind instruments should not be played indoors. The decision whether to play an organ that requires air to be pushed through the mechanism should be based on a risk assessment and adherence with hand hygiene and cleaning guidance and physical distancing, for example from the remainder of the congregation and avoiding use of a registrant.

It is advised that you use alternative instruments such as a piano, electronic instruments or recordings. Music should not be played at levels 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 worship or ceremonies should also be made in a lowered voice.

Where it is an essential part of the worship or ceremony, 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 others. This will further prevent transmission and the screen can be easily cleaned. It is possible for more than one individual to sing or chant over the course of a ceremony but not at the same time. Each individual should make separate arrangements to protect from transmission of the virus, for example separate plexi-screens or cleaning between each individuals use.

Playing non-wind instruments may be done indoors as part of worship, a ceremony or to accompany a singer if the musicians remain physically distanced between households and the congregation. Where a band or recorded music is playing it is advisable to stress, to those in attendance, the importance of avoiding singing and organisers should consider the impact of the volume or sustained length of music on the likelihood that people will converse with raised voices.

Ringing of bells, or similar, may again be done. However, people attending to peal bells should be included in the risk assessment process and subsequent protocols for attendance at the event. Specific provisions should be made where circumstances allow, such as separate entrances, and physical distancing measures between bell ringers and hand hygiene while pealing the bells and between them and the other attendees.

Food and drink

The distribution of food or drink (consumables) should be avoided except where they are integral to the worship, religious or belief ceremony.

If it is necessary to handle consumables during a ceremony then those giving and receiving the item should wash their hands before and after exchange and avoid contact. Where possible a distance of 2 metres should be maintained. Utensils must not be shared between people.

In circumstances when it is not possible to maintain a 2 metre distance the person distributing the consumable should release it into the hand only, in such a way as to avoid any contact between them and those receiving it. If accidental contact does occur, both people should cleanse their hands immediately.

Other mitigations should also be considered, for example, foodstuffs should be prewrapped, and a system should be in place to prevent individuals from coming into contact with consumables and any dishes and/ or cutlery other than their own (for example bowls or cups should not be shared). Consumables should only be shared within household groups. Wherever possible ceremonial consumables should not be consumed at the time but taken away for later.

Speaking, singing and chanting should not happen across uncovered consumables (other than consumables to be used by the individual alone). Instead consumables must be securely covered, and prior to the receptacle being opened, should be cleaned, hands must be washed or gloves worn.

Preparation of foodstuffs may take place on the premises, but where it does, relevant guidance and social distancing measures should be observed.

These restrictions apply equally to indoor and outdoor worship.

Handwashing and use of water

Practicing good hand hygiene is important.  Everyone should wash their hands for 20 seconds using soap and water as they enter and leave the building and after coughing, sneezing or blowing their nose.

The water should not be shared and liquid soap should be used. Others present should move out of range of any potential splashing. Communal towels should not be used. If paper towels are used they should be in a dispenser as sharing a packet could spread infection. They should also be disposed of carefully.

If hand washing with soap and water is not practical, hand sanitisers should be used.

Any pre-requisite washing/ablution rituals should not be done at the place of worship but carried out prior to arrival.

In rare circumstances where it is necessary, washing facilities within the place of worship should be used in line with social distancing guidelines and hand washing and respiratory hygiene measures applied.

People should not wash the body parts of others.

Where rituals or ceremonies require water to be applied to the body, small volumes can be splashed onto the body, Where practical others present should move out of range of any potential splashing.

Where an infant is involved a parent/guardian or other member of the infant’s regular or extended household should hold the infant. All individuals involved should thoroughly wash their hands before and after and ensure good hand washing and respiratory hygiene.

It at all possible full immersion baptisms should be avoided. The use of a baptistery should follow the same guidance as  swimming pools. Read the Welsh Government guidance and guidance has also been prepared by UK Active and Swim Wales. Only one baptism should be allowed per session, the water should be drained and the baptistery cleaned. To comply with physical distancing guidance, baptisms should be by self-immersion (Self-immersion means only the candidate should be in the baptistery or pool and not touched by anyone unless they are from the same household) and no one should be baptised by another person, with exception of a member of their own household. Anyone else present should stay out of range of any potential splashing. A self – immersion baptism, in a safe external space designated for swimming such as a lido or beach that is patrolled by lifeguards would be allowed,

Toilets

Toilets can be opened providing that social distancing and hand hygiene guidance is followed. Guidance: providing safer toilets for public use.

Broadcasting

Places of worship can continue to broadcast their services and religious ceremonies. Those who wish to do this should be helped to do so where reasonably practicable. Recordings may also be made with the consent of those involved.

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 hygiene, cleaning of equipment, singing and playing musical instruments advice.

Worship outdoors

We recognise that there will be occasions when it will not be possible or practicable to conduct worship or a religious or belief ceremony in a place of worship. Therefore, worship can be held outdoors in the following situations and subject to all the other guidance in this document including social distancing, singing, the use water, food and drink, Test, Track and Protect.

Up to a maximum of 30 individuals are permitted to gather outdoors. Those who organise an event will have a duty of care to those attending to make it as safe as possible. The Welsh Government is keen to ensure that  a risk assessment on the outdoor space comparable to one required under regulation 3 of the Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 is carried out and that all reasonable measures are taken to minimise risk to exposure of 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 of the religious or belief body to manage access to the site may all be appropriate mechanisms to establish control of the space.

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 erected for outdoor worship or religious or belief ceremonies 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.

The numbers attending outdoor worship or religious or belief ceremonies 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. The organiser is responsible for ensuring that capacity is not exceeded and may need to turn people away to maintain this. Where the service or ceremony relates to a life event, such as a wedding celebration, the organiser should ensure attendance is by invitation. This is because these events are often attended by people who would not normally attend places of worship and anticipating numbers may be more difficult.

Events that may be organised to include vehicles are included in this concept of outdoor worship or religious or belief ceremonies and the risk assessment should reflect this, ensuring that cars maintain household separation.

Risk assessment

Many places of worship are also workplaces and should therefore consider the Welsh Government's guidance for employers as part of their decision to reopen their place of worship. To help decide which actions to take to ensure a safe opening, a COVID-19 risk assessment should be completed by each place of worship. Read the risk assessment tool guidance. Those responsible for places of worship that belong to a denomination or grouping at regional or national level should contact their representative body for further guidance.

This risk assessment should take place in addition to any risk or health and safety assessments already in place. The risk assessment should be done in consultation with unions or workers (including volunteers and contractors) as relevant. It may also be beneficial to include worshippers or other stakeholders in this process.

As the number and variety of activities within the place of worship increases, independent risk assessment should be prepared for the different uses. Careful consideration should be given to whether it is practical to allow different uses to happen concurrently and to ensure that the arrangements put in place for one use does not undermine the COVID-19 secure environment being created by the other arrangements.

You should consider using the COVID-19 Workforce Risk Assessment Tool with all staff and volunteers to ensure that personal risk to these personnel is mitigated.

Preparing the building for opening

It is important that, prior to reopening all the usual checks are undertaken to make sure the building is safe. If buildings have been closed or had reduced occupancy during the COVID-19 outbreak, water system stagnation can occur due to lack of use, increasing the risks of Legionnaires’ disease. HSE guidance covering water management and legionella is available.

Drinking Water Inspectorate’s guidance on bringing buildings back into use after a period of disuse may be helpful. The guidance covers a range of quality issues that should be considered. The guidance is available on the DWIs general web page.

Natural ventilation via windows or vents should be used as far as possible. Where centralised or mechanical ventilation is present, re-circulatory systems should be adjusted to full fresh air, if this is not possible systems should be operated as normal. Where ventilation units have filters present ensure enhanced precautions are taken when changing filters.

In order to ensure good practice is adhered to by those attending, including hand and respiratory hygiene, those managing the building may wish to consider introducing some or all of the following measures as appropriate:

  • taking the necessary actions to mitigate any risks identified in any risk assessment
  • informing your worshippers of the changes introduced and when the building will be available
  • using a notification or organised process to manage attendance at the place of worship or outdoor worship such as asking people to notify you of their intention to attend
  • working with other places of worship to stagger opening times to reduce the pressure on one building
  • deciding whether you will need people to manage the entrances, exits and the main body of the building when it is open
  • taking measures to avoid people congregating in confined spaces, such as  introducing a one-way-system within the building identifying separate entry and exit points and systems to  manage people who are waiting to enter the building such as a 2 metre physically distanced queuing system
  • making sure that any changes  take into account reasonable adjustments to accommodate those who need them, such as disabled worshippers
  • ensuring that access to the building is not determined or prioritised by gender
  • closing off unused areas, removing non-essential furniture, displays, play equipment, literature etc. from the areas that are open to worshippers
  • to avoid sharing  articles such as prayer mats, hymn books and  religious texts and individuals should be encouraged to bring their own where relevant. These should be removed by the individual and not left in the place of worship
  • using barriers or screens or other rooms to separate worshippers and different activities
  • introduce signage and floor markings to guide worshippers. Display posters to build awareness of social distancing and good hand hygiene
  • places of worship who belong to a denomination or grouping at regional or national level should contact their representative body for further guidance on how to reopen safely.

Communication

Those in charge of running a place of worship should ensure they engage with their worshippers and with the wider community to explain what activity is permitted and what is still prohibited.

Faith leaders should provide reassurance to any member who is worried about letting their faith community down by not returning.  Alternatives to physical attendance should remain in place in addition to individual access. People should only attend if they are well and have no symptoms.

Members of faith groups that don’t have a formal place of worship should continue to stay at home to pray in their own homes and engage with their faith group using virtual means or organise outdoor worship in line with the guidance.

Using the building

  • Individuals should be prevented from touching or kissing devotional and other objects that are handled communally. Barriers and/or clear signage should be put in place where necessary.
  • Where practical, non-fire doors should be kept open to prevent people from touching handles.
  • Individuals should avoid touching property belonging to others such as shoes, which, if removed, should be placed and collected by their owner while adhering to social distancing principles.
  • Books, reusable and communal resources e.g. prayer mats, service sheets, cups or plates should be removed from use.
  • No food or drink should be made available except if they are an essential part of the worship or ceremony.
  • Faith leaders should discourage cash giving and continue to use online giving and resources where possible minimising contact around transactions. Regular cleaning (on GOV.UK) and hand hygiene should be maintained, and gloves worn to handle cash offerings where giving in this way continues.

Taking all reasonable measures to maintain 2 metre distance

Read the guidance on social distancing. Additionally, separate guidance states that, whilst the rules on children under 11 having to maintain physical distancing has been relaxed, this age group must still observe the social restrictions on meeting others indoors who are not part of their household, or extended household, and the maximum number of 30 people permitted to gather outside. Everyone should practise good hand and respiratory hygiene.

The number who can attend at one time will depend on the size and the layout of the building. The legal requirement is that all reasonable measures are taken to ensure a distance of 2 metres is kept between those attending. A distance of less than 2 metres is permissible with additional protections, Read the guidance. For the purposes of this guidance attendees should maintain 2 metre distance except where usual practices require less than 2 metres is maintained and practices cannot be reasonably adapted. This means a distance of 2 metres between members of different extended households, not necessarily between each individual person (as members of the same or extended household can safely sit together, this would include a carer and the person assisted by the carer). The maximum number who can attend an organised gathering outdoors is 30.

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. All possible actions should be taken to avoid queues and to ensure that those waiting to enter or leave a place of worship do not inadvertently gather.

The other elements of the social distancing guidance such as hand washing and respiratory hygiene practices should also be followed.

Cleaning

COVID-19 is mainly spread between people who are in close contact with one another and by droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes.  It can also spread through contact with a surface or object that has the virus on it

Wear washing-up gloves and aprons for cleaning of premises, use disposable cloths and ordinary household cleaning products. Wash your hands for 20 seconds after removing gloves, aprons and other protection used while cleaning.

Dispose of any items used for cleaning carefully, they should be double-bagged, then thrown away in the regular rubbish after cleaning is finished.

First clean hard surfaces with warm soapy water, then disinfect these surfaces with the cleaning products you normally use. Pay particular attention to frequently touched areas and surfaces, such as toilets, grab-rails in corridors and stairwells and door handles.

Sufficient time needs to be allowed for this cleaning to take place, particularly before opening and in-between use. A decision should be made locally on how frequently cleaning should take place based on an assessment of risk and use of the building.

If you believe an area has been used by someone, regardless if you suspect the individual may have suspected coronavirus you should follow this guidance about cleaning non-healthcare settings (on GOV.UK).

Historic England has also produced guidance on cleaning historic surfaces.

Who can attend

Those experiencing coronavirus symptoms listed below should not attend a place of worship.

  • new continuous cough
  • high temperature
  • loss of or change to your normal sense of smell or taste (anosmia)

Any individuals who are self-isolating due to a possible or confirmed case of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the household or extended household; or if they are a contact of a case and have been advised to self-isolate should not attend. Read the guidance on self-isolation.

The advice for those who are at increased risk of severe illness from coronavirus (COVID-19) and the extremely vulnerable group who are shielding continues to be to minimise their contact with others and to be particularly stringent in following social and physical distancing measures for their personal protection.  However, they may decide, for their wellbeing, to attend a place of worship despite the additional risk this poses to them.  In this case they and anyone with them should strictly follow the social distancing guidance.

No one should feel obligated to return to a place of worship, even if they have a volunteering role that they would normally fulfil. 

Those wishing to attend a place of worship should consider how far they need to travel and how they will travel to and from the building safely. Members of the same household or extended household may travel together. Read the Welsh Government's advice on travelling safely.

If anyone, including religious leaders and volunteers, becomes unwell with symptoms of COVID-19 in a place of worship, they should be sent home and advised to follow the self-isolation guidance and to apply for a coronavirus test.

If they need clinical advice, they should go online to NHS 111 Wales (or call 111 if they don’t have internet access). In an emergency, call 999 if they are seriously ill or injured or their life is at risk. They should not visit the GP, pharmacy, urgent care centre or a hospital.

Other people who may have been in contact with the person who has become unwell should wash their hands thoroughly after the interaction, but they do not need to take any other specific action unless they develop symptoms themselves. If they develop symptoms they should follow the self-isolation guidance and apply for a coronavirus test.

The areas used by these individuals should be thoroughly cleaned according to the guidance referenced above.

Parents or guardians should supervise their children to ensure they maintain social distancing as set out in the guidance contained above.

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, it is encouraged that details are taken and kept where there is a possibility of people coming into close contact   for instance as part of a marriage, communion or baptism or spends a longer time on the premises. A record of the time and date of the event and the names and telephone contact 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.

If an individual does not want to share their details for the purpose of the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect services it is your decision whether to make your services available to that individual. In making that decision it is important to consider the health and safety of everyone and your community in the event of a local outbreak.

Face coverings

Provision of other services

There is still a prohibition on people from different households gathering indoors (that is being in the same place to do something together) without a reasonable excuse. Attending a place of worship is one such reason. 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.

Places of worship are now able to provide supervised activities for children (up to the age of 18). These can include activities such as Sunday schools, children’s services and madrassas.

With the exception of the relaxation of rules on children under 11 (in essence primary aged or younger) these activities are subject to the same types of practice and measures set out in this  guidance on regular hand washing, singing, food, and cleaning.

Guidance on providing supervised children’s activities is currently being developed.

Guidance on providing youth work services is currently being developed and will be published shortly.

Read further guidance on providing childcare.

Using places of worship for community engagement activities and hiring rooms to other organisations or businesses is not covered by this guidance. Read further guidance on the Safe use of multi-purpose community centres.

For guidance on reopening cafes and the provision of food please refer to the guidance for reopening the hospitality sector.

Read guidance for places of worship that also open as visitor attractions.

As the range and frequency of activities increase, places of worship should carefully consider whether it is practical to allow different uses to happen concurrently. Independent risk assessments should be carried out for the different uses and appropriate arrangements should be put in place to ensure the arrangements for the one use does not undermine the COVID-19 secure environment being created for the other. This could include the requirement to close parts or all of the building during individual uses including entrances, exits and toilets.

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