This guidance is of a general nature and should be treated as a guide. It aims to provide useful information, links and practical advice to support those responsible for places of worship to implement (should they wish) a change to the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020 which now permit re-opening of places of worship for private prayer.
The guidance has been devised specifically with places of worship in mind. It does not supplant guidance issued by the Welsh Ministers under regulation 7A of the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020, in respect to all those who are subject to duties under those Regulations to ensure 2 metres distance is kept between people on and waiting to enter premises and supplementary workplace guidance.
Should any doubt arise between provisions in this guidance for places of worship and that guidance, that statutory guidance shall prevail. Additionally places of worship are permitted to open for funerals, the solemnisation of marriages and, where relevant, formation of civil partnerships in respect of which separate guidance is issued. This guidance is concerned solely with the opening of places of worship for private prayer.
This guidance does not impose a duty or requirement on places of worship to reopen nor will it be possible to fully do so for some time to come. Some places of worship may choose not to reopen until a later date, open at a slower pace and continue to use online technology to carry out faith activity.
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 to develop and plan for a phased and safe reopening of places of worship. This guidance will be reviewed and amended as the situation and scientific advice around risks of transmission changes.
The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020 (referred to in the guidance as “the Regulations”) impose 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).
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 vulnerable to the risk of spreading coronavirus (COVID-19).
On the 18th June the Regulations were amended as follows:
7 - (1) A person responsible for a place of worship must ensure that, during the emergency period, the place of worship is closed, except for uses permitted by paragraph (2).
(2) If all reasonable measures are taken to ensure a distance of 2 metres is maintained between every person in the place of worship (except between two members of the same household, or a carer and the person assisted by the carer), the place may be used—
(za) for the solemnization of a marriage or formation of a civil partnership,
- for funerals,
(aa) for prayer by—
(i) an individual,
(ii) members of the same household, or
(iii) an individual and the individual’s carer,
which does not form part of communal worship,
(b) to broadcast (whether over the internet or as part of a radio or television broadcast)—
(i) an act of worship (without a congregation);
(ii) a solemnization of a marriage or formation of a civil partnership;
(iii) a funeral, or
(c) to provide essential voluntary services or, upon the request of the Welsh Ministers or a local authority, public services.
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 ceremonies, collective prayer and worship or similar gatherings, such as a church, gurdwara, mosque, temple, synagogue, prayer, meeting or church hall.
For the purposes of this guidance, the term “worshippers” is used to describe individuals or households entering the place of worship to engage in a permitted activity.
Purpose of this advice
This guidance aims to assist places of worship to re-open (should they wish to) for private prayer by individuals, this includes prayer by members of the same household. Wherever this guidance mentions “households” or “people you share a home with”, this should be taken also to include extended households. Activities such as services and prayers that will encourage people to gather would contravene the Regulations. Communal worship is not permitted.
Any activity relating to the reopening of places of worship must adhere to regulation 7A of the Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (Wales) Regulations 2020 Statutory Guidance which places a duty on persons responsible for places of worship to take all reasonable measures to ensure 2 meters distance is maintained (social distancing, also known as physical distancing). Also the amendments to the Regulations which will come into effect on 22 June, to practise effective social distancing and hand hygiene procedures. This is set out in the social distancing guidance and supplementary workplace guidance.
Each individual place of worship should apply this guidance to its own specific circumstances, including consideration of the size of the building, how it is organised, operated, managed and regulated. The persons responsible for the management of the place of worship will have the freedom to decide when they consider it is safe to reopen for private prayer. They should remain closed if they are not satisfied they are able to adhere to the requirements to maintain social distancing between persons in accordance with regulation 6 of the Regulations.
Permitted use: Private prayer
Places of worship may open for private prayer by an individual or household. They should be socially distanced from other individuals or other households. The Regulations require all reasonable measures to be taken to ensure 2 metres distance is kept between people in places of worship (other than those in the same household or the carer of a person). Failure to comply is an offence.
Places of worship may not hold or organise activities such as services and communal prayer that will encourage people to gather, such activities would contravene the requirements and restrictions set out in the Regulations. This includes a Minister of Religion or lay person leading devotions or prayer of any sort, except for broadcast without a congregation.
Funerals and broadcasts of funerals are allowed to take place, as are marriages and, if applicable to the religion or denomination, civil partnerships, but they are subject to social distancing measures being in place.
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. The 5 step framework that sets out practical actions for businesses to take may also be helpful.
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. Those responsible for places of worship should speak to 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. The advice about managing indoor environments, may also be helpful which includes advice on managing visitors, and contractors.
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
In order to ensure that those attending the place of worship are able to adhere to the statutory guidance, and good practice, including hand and respiratory hygiene , those managing the building may wish to consider introducing some or all of the following measures as appropriate:
- The necessary actions to mitigate any risks identified in the risk assessment;
- Consider when the building will be available for the specified purpose and how you will inform your worshippers of the changes introduced;
- Consider using a notification or organisation process to manage attendance at the place of worship and to limit numbers;
- Consider working with other places of worship to stagger opening times to reduce the pressure on one building;
- Consider whether you will need people to manage the entrances, exits and the main body of the building when it is open;
- To avoid people congregating in confined spaces, identifying entry and exit points and a one-way-system within the building. Any changes should take into account reasonable adjustments to accommodate those who need them, such as disabled worshippers;
- Access to the building should not be 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.
- Shared articles such as prayer mats, hymn books, collection plates should be removed and individuals should be encouraged to bring their own.
- Consider using barriers or screens or other rooms to separate worshippers
- Introduce signage and floor markings to guide worshippers. Display posters to build awareness of physical distancing and social distancing and good hand hygiene.
- Consider how to manage people who are waiting to enter the building such as a socially distanced queuing system.
- Where practicable non-fire doors and windows should be opened to improve ventilation.
- You should speak to your representative body for further guidance on how to reopen safely.
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.
No one should feel obligated to return to a place of worship, even if they have a volunteering role that they would normally fulfil. The advice for individuals especially those who are extremely vulnerable or in a shielded group continues to be to minimise their contact with others for their personal protection. People should only attend if they are well and have no symptoms.
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.
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.
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 form touching handles
- Individuals should also 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 or devotional material should be removed from use. Items owned by the individual to aid worship e.g. a prayer mat or religious text, may be brought in but must be removed again.
- No food or drink should be made available.
- Use of shared spaces (e.g. washing/ablution areas prior to prayer) should be limited and social distancing should be maintained at all times, with cleaning of the area to the appropriate standard as set out in guidance in between each use. People should conduct pre-requisite washing/ablution rituals from home wherever possible.
- Religious activity involving physical contact, speaking in unison, singing or chanting and using shared equipment such as hymn books, are not permitted.
- Faith leaders should discourage cash giving and continue to use online giving and resources where possible minimising contact around transactions. Regular cleaning and hygiene should be maintained, and gloves worn to handle cash offerings where giving in this way continues.
Observing social distancing
Read the guidance on social distancing.
The number who can practice prayer, 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. This means a distance of 2 metres between members of different households, not necessarily between each individual person (as members of the same household can safely sit together, this would include a carer and the person assisted by the carer).
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 a place of worship do not inadvertently gather.
The other elements of the social distancing guidance such as handwashing and respiratory hygiene practices should also be followed.
Places of worship may wish to consider implementing processes that manage the numbers attending at any one time such as asking worshippers to notify the place of worship of their intention to attend.
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
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 the 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).
Historic England has also produced guidance on cleaning historic surfaces.
Sufficient time should be allowed to clean before the building is re-opened. Frequently used areas will also require regular cleaning when the place of worship is open. A decision should be made locally on how frequently cleaning should take place based on the risk assessment and use of the building.
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)
Individuals who are self-isolating due to a possible or confirmed case of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the household should not attend or if they are a contact of a case and have been advised to self-isolate. Read the guidance on self-isolation.
The advice for individuals who are extremely vulnerable and shielding or in an at risk group continues to be to minimise their contact with others for their personal protection. However, they may decide, for their wellbeing, to attend a place of worship for private prayer or as part of a household prayer despite the additional risk this poses to them. In this case they and anyone with them should strictly follow the social distancing guidance.
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 should 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 at all times.
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.
Read further information about Test, Trace, Protect.
Washing of hands
Practicing good hand hygiene is important. Worshippers 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.