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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 opening places of worship (should they wish) for communal worship and religious ceremonies in accordance with Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 5) (Wales) Regulations 2020, under which places of worship may remain open.

Should any doubt arise between provisions in this guidance, and the statutory guidance issued by the Welsh Ministers 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 open. The persons responsible for the place of worship will have the freedom to decide when they consider it is safe to open. They should remain closed if they are not satisfied they are able to take reasonable measures to minimise the risk of exposure to, or spread of, coronavirus, as required under regulation 16.

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. In managing risk the first question should always be can I avoid the risky activity. Wherever practical and reasonable, alternatives to face to face meeting should be employed to reduce the risk of transmission. Those who are clinically extremely vulnerable should take extra care when meeting with people who are not part of their household or extended household.

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. 5) (Wales) Regulations 2020 impose restrictions on gatherings of people, the Regulations set out restrictions which apply in different alert levels. 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). 

New variants of coronavirus have posed greater risk of transmission and it is possible that a new variant might be vaccine resistant. Not all adults have had two doses of the vaccine, so it is important that precautions continue to be taken. Therefore, it is particularly important that places of worship take all the steps they can to avoid any risks of people being exposed to the virus or spreading the virus, both to protect worshippers and the wider community.

The Technical Advisory Group has published a report on the evidence associated with transmission and potential risks associated with religious activities and places of worship.

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 all 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. This can include buildings or rooms which are not exclusively used as a place of worship. For example, community centres, halls or venues regularly hired by a religious or belief body for the purpose. Where a venue is not ‘regularly’ hired for worship it may nevertheless be used for an indoor gathering which could comprise an act of worship, for up to 30 people (children under 11 of households attending, or carers of those attending not counting to that limit of 30). However, the gathering must be organised by a body, such as a business, club or charity, the organiser must have carried out a risk assessment in accordance with the Regulations in respect of that planned gathering and must take all reasonable measures for the purpose of eliminating the risk of exposure to, or spread of, coronavirus (as referred to above).

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 who engage in a permitted activity of gathering for an act of worship.

For the purposes of this guidance, worship includes gatherings for religious and belief ceremonies including baptisms (see further advice below) and other ceremonies that celebrate rites of passage that take place in places of worship.

Alert levels

The Coronavirus Control Plan sets out the restrictions that will be introduced in each of the alert levels described in the document.

Places of worship are able to open for communal worship in all alert levels. While we recognise the importance of communal worship, the advice remains, for people not to congregate whenever possible.

Those who are responsible for places of worship should consider whether there are alternative ways of holding worship services and providing support for each other whilst they are under restrictions. For example, faith leaders may choose to broadcast services without a congregation.

Similarly for life event ceremonies undertaken in places of worship consideration should be given to whether these events can be postponed until the alert level has been lowered (in times of higher alert levels) or if the numbers that would normally attend can be reduced and any other additional precautions can be taken to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus.  The number who can attend should be calculated according to the size of the building, allowing for 2m physical distancing between each person (other than members of the same household or extended household).

Marriages and funerals

Marriages and funerals are permitted at all levels. The number who can attend continues to be guided by the size and layout of the building.

Other life events

Other life events which require attendance at a place of worship are permitted. Again the number who can attend is guided by the size of the building.

To make sure that the numbers are adhered to attendance at all these events should be by invitation only. With respect to attendance at weddings and funerals, this is a specific requirement within the Regulations.

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 for a specific purpose, such as a funeral or wedding, such ceremonies that do not form part of communal worship should continue to be by invitation only. Under the Regulations, for weddings and funerals those who can attend specifically include people who have been invited.  Further information is set out in the guidance funerals and weddings.

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.

Once services and ceremonies have completed, participants should be told 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 for gathering, however that must not be for a social purpose and it is important to ensure that people do not congregate at the entrance of a place of worship before or after the service. 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, singing and chanting in worship, religious and belief ceremonies. However, there are significant risks associated with playing wind instruments and with singing or chanting at louder volumes. The risks are associated with the increased spread of droplets or aerosol which rise alongside volume. Respiratory particles in the form of both droplets and aerosols exist in human exhaled breath, and activities such as speaking loudly, singing, sneezing and coughing will result in greater aerosol generation. Some studies suggest singing may result in a 20-30 fold increase in particle generation while loudness of speaking or singing is also important in determining the amount of aerosol emitted. 

Infected individuals shed the virus prior to the onset of symptoms, meaning that focusing on symptoms as a basis for preventing infection is not sufficient to prevent transmission. There is also compelling evidence that a significant proportion of cases show no symptoms at all. This means that strategies for control of the virus must include measures that reduce the probability of infected individuals who are not showing symptoms from infecting others, which requires an understanding of the risks associated with singing and playing instruments.

Over the course of the pandemic a number of ‘super-spreading’ events have been associated with gatherings where a ‘vocal’ element plays a role in transmission. These include choir practise and recitals, concerts, weddings and worship. The risks of singing, chanting and playing of instruments are then significant. However, scientific advice has concluded these risks are manageable where the community transmission rate is low. For this reason singing and the playing of instruments as part of worship practise can take place where a risk assessment and appropriate mitigations have been put in place. This would include both indoors and outdoors, as well as both performance and congregational singing. However, it is emphasised that extreme caution should be exercised, especially in relation to large groups indoors .

In conducting a risk assessment places of worship should consider the following:

  1. Infectious particles are present in exhaled breath, and these can vary in size. While the dynamics of the largest droplets are dominated by gravitational effects, the smaller aerosol particles form clouds that can remain afloat for long periods of time
  2. Activities involving speaking, singing or exhaling breath forcibly result in greater aerosol or droplet generation. Generally, the emission of viral particles from individuals follows the series cough > singing > speaking > breathing.
  3. The louder/more sustained the activity, the more aerosol or droplets are generated.
  4. The amount and infectivity of virus emitted by an individual varies, depending on a number of factors including their age, size, stage in the infection cycle, A precautionary approach would treat all participants as having the potential to spread the virus.
  5. Face-coverings must be worn indoors. This requirement will apply to all participants in congregational singing. 

The environmental factors that would specifically affect the risk to others of an infected individual spreading the virus are;

  1. Lack of social distancing
  2. Insufficient ventilation indoors
  3. Temperature (environments below 15oC have been identified as contributing to transmission potential and environmental survival
  4. Humidity (Droplet dispersal, environment survival and transmission shows a complex relationship with relative humidity. The evidence base is still not clear as different humidities appear to differentially affect survival and dispersal in the air and on surfaces  34–37, 65, 80, 81)
  5. Whether the activity is undertaken indoors or outdoors. The evidence clearly suggests outdoors poses a significantly lower risk than indoors.

Other factors have been identified as affecting risk of transmission and therefore should be considered as part of a risk assessment. These include;

  • Duration of performance (longer duration equals higher risk)
  • Number of singers (more singers potentially equates to higher risk)
  • Audience behaviour (e.g. are the audience likely to sing along to a performance.)
  • Age of singers. Adolescents emit fewer aerosol particles during singing than what has been known so far for adults.
  • Use of masks/visors/physical barriers may reduce spread although while there is good evidence around masks and visors, physical barriers are much less well studied. It is also important to emphasise that visors alone are not recommended, because while they may provide protection to the wearer, they do not protect others.
  • Nasal blockage enhances viral discharge from the mouth.
  • Whether individuals sneeze in which large droplets can carry up to 4
  • Times between services or ceremonies.
  • Whether amplification is used to reduce singing intensity.

There are a number of mitigations that can be put in place to reduce (though not eliminate) the risk of transmitting the virus.

  • As set out in national self-isolation guidance guidance, people with symptoms, have tested positive or who live with people who have symptoms or have tested positive or who have been advised by NHS Test Trace Protect that they are a contact of someone who has tested positive should self-isolate and not attend worship.
  • Singing and playing of instruments should take place only in larger well-ventilated spaces, or outdoors.
  • Face coverings should be worn where this is practicable. Singers' masks are available which are designed to hold the material away from the nose and mouth allowing normal vowel production and projection.
  • Performance, congregational singing or rehearsal is for limited periods of time and should be at a reduced level of loudness, using microphones for amplification if available.
  • Limited numbers of people sing together. Communal chanting with face coverings should be in a quiet voice.
  • Singers/musicians are spaced at least 2 metres apart in all directions. This also applies with the members of congregations if singing is to take place.
  • Audience, gatherings, observers and teachers are also spaced at least 2 metres from the singers or musicians.
  • Orientation of performers avoids face-to-face positioning.
  • Avoid sharing of written materials, microphones, sheet music, stands, hymn books etc.,
  • Due consideration is also given to reducing transmission risk within the venue (hand hygiene, regular cleaning and disinfection of surfaces) and associated secondary activities (e.g. travelling to the venue, public toilets, socialising before, during and after the event). Avoid sharing of refreshments at any point before or after events.
  • Lateral flow devices or PCR testing for officiants are used in advance, where a congregation is going to be present.
  • Avoid singing in areas with high disease prevalence.

All types of instrument can be used subject to their specific consideration in risk assessment and adoption of the mitigation set out above. This would include wind and brass instruments as well as pipe organs.

This guidance relates to musicians playing as part of worship. Other circumstances, such as concerts given to the public should follow the guidance made available to the performing arts sector.

Music should not be played at levels that make normal conversations difficult. This is because raised voices or shouting significantly increase the risk of transmission through aerosol and droplets, and even more so with the increased risks of transmission through the new variant.  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 take place. The risk assessment should consider the number of people attending to peal the bells; how they will enter and leave the building, room or bell tower; how they will maintain 2 metre distance between individual bell ringers and if this is not possible what other mitigations will be put in place; the protocols for hand hygiene while pealing the bells and how they will maintain physical distancing between other members of the congregation.

Ventilation

Ventilation is a key mitigation measure to control the far-field (>2m) transmission of SARSCoV-2 by aerosols between people who share the same indoor space. Ventilation is not likely to have significant impacts on close range transmission by droplets and aerosols (within 1-2m) or transmission via contact with surfaces (high confidence).

Higher viral load associated with people who have the new variant could have significant implications for transmission via the air, as previous scientific modelling suggests that viral load is a major determinant of airborne transmission risks. SAGE before the emergence of new variants stated; for most workplaces and public environments adequate ventilation equates to a flow rate of 8-10 l/s/person based on design occupancy, although guidance for some environments allows for lower flow rates of 5 l/s/person. Since the introduction of the new variant, SAGE has recommended where possible, increasing ventilation flow rates mentioned above by a factor of 1.7 (70%) to account for the increase in transmissibility.

For some existing and older buildings, ventilation systems may not have been designed to meet current standards and additional mitigations may be needed. As a precautionary measure it is recommended that ventilation is included as part of any workplace or public indoor environment COVID secure risk assessment, and the necessary mitigation measures are adopted.

In most buildings, maintaining comfortable temperatures and humidity above 40-60% relative humidity is likely to be beneficial to reducing the survivability of the virus. However, this is likely to be less important than the ventilation rate mentioned above (medium confidence).

Whilst physical distancing is an important part of preventing transmission of Coronavirus it is not enough alone to prevent all forms of airborne transmission. The virus is spread by aerosol which is the fine mist (as opposed to larger droplets) containing infectious particles that an infected person exhales. Without ventilation, this aerosol can concentrate in indoor areas. Two factors are key to this concentration, one is the rate at which aerosol is emitted and the other is time over which the activity takes place. Emissions are significantly affected by the volume at which an infected person might sing or speak. Evidence suggests that we emit 50 times more virus laden particles when we speak in a loud voice than when we don’t speak at all.

These emissions will remain airborne in aerosol and concentrate over time. Face coverings will reduce but not eradicate the emission of infected aerosol so the longer the period spent together with an infected person in a poorly ventilated space the more the risk of transmission increases. 

Planning for good ventilation should therefore form part of an effective risk assessment. Reducing the time over which an activity takes place as well as mechanical ventilation and utilising natural ventilation such as keeping doors and windows open are all mitigations to manage the risk posed by aerosol in places of worship. It is recognised that weather can make natural ventilation uncomfortable, but even when cold the need for ventilation remains an important strategy for reducing our risk of exposure to the virus.  It will be important to maximise airflow through the use of vents, windows and doors whilst maintaining a comfortable indoor environment. Opening windows/doors for at least five minutes before worshippers arrive and when everyone has gone home, and again between services if there is more than one scheduled will allow air to circulate. If at all possible, you should open all windows/doors for a few minutes in the day to allow for cross ventilation, that is for stale air to flow out and fresh air to come in.

However, in managing the transmission of the virus during the pandemic it might be appropriate to ask worshippers to dress so that windows and doors can be kept open during the service to maximise the airflow. Where it is not possible to maximise natural ventilation places of worship should consider shortening activities.

Natural ventilation via windows, doors or vents should therefore 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 can be operated as normal, but should be supported by natural ventilation to avoid recirculating infected air. Where ventilation units have filters present ensure enhanced precautions are taken when changing filters.

Read further guidance from HSE on risk assessing ventilation and the use of mechanical ventilation and making your workplace COVID-secure during the coronavirus pandemic.

Food and drink

The distribution of food or drink (consumables) should be avoided except where they are integral to the worship or 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 should be securely covered, and prior to the receptacle being opened, surfaces 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.

Handwashing and use of water

Practicing good hand hygiene is important. Wherever possible, 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 it should be held by a member of the family. All individuals involved should thoroughly wash their hands before and after and ensure good hand washing and respiratory hygiene.

The officiant can place their hand on the infant but should not cradle the infant or touch it in any other way. If speaking over or near the infant cannot be avoided this should be kept to the absolute minimum. The officiant should wear a face covering when they are within 2 meters of other people. A face visor will not be sufficient. Strict hand hygiene should be maintained throughout.

The water should be drained and the font or vessel should be cleaned between each baptism.

Where a full immersion is required as part of a ritual this should be carefully planned.  Where possible the person should self-immerse or be attended by a member of their own household.  If this is not possible they should be attended by a single officiant.  The congregation should remain out of range of any splashing at all times.

Only one person should be immersed at any one time. If non-chlorinated water is used in the baptistery it must be drained and cleaned between each baptism.  A swimming pool must follow Welsh Government guidance and guidance has also been prepared by UK Active and Swim Wales

Touching should be kept to the minimum contact and time that is necessary. For example, the officiant can place their hand behind the shoulders of  the person being immersed and hold their hands to steady them during the act of immersion but they should not  touch them in any other way. The hold should be released immediately the person has resurfaced and is back on their feet and distance between them regained as soon as is practicable. Any words that must be spoken over or near the person should be kept to a minimum. The officiant should wash their hands between each individual being baptised and maintain a distance of 2 metres except for the act of immersion.

The officiant should wear a face covering when they are closer than 2 meters to the individual being baptised, a face visor will not be sufficient. The individual being baptised should remove their face covering for the immersion.

Faith-specific practices

Faith leaders and those responsible for places of worship must take measures to adapt faith-specific rites and rituals in accordance with this guidance to ensure the safety of those present.

Physical distancing of 2 metres to limit close face-to-face interaction and strict hygiene safeguards must be maintained at places of worship. Where absolutely necessary for a faith-specific requirement interactions within a 2 metre distance may take place provided they are brief, kept to a minimum and face-to-face interaction is avoided. These interactions should only take place when it is absolutely essential and it would be unreasonable to maintain physical distancing in the circumstances (for example, the laying on of hands in the ordination of new ministers). For any such interactions, face coverings must be worn, including by the individual leading the act of worship. Face visors do not offer sufficient protection when individuals are within 2 meters of each other.

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 and ceremonies outdoors

Evidence suggests that activities outdoors are less risky compared to indoors provided people adhere to two metre social distancing and other mitigations. However, this

Evidence suggests that activities outdoors are less risky compared to indoors provided people adhere to two metre social distancing and other mitigations. However, this is dependent on a number of factors including the frequency of larger gatherings, the number of attendees, the likelihood of attendance by infectious participants, whether participants sing and shout and the proximity of people.

Regulated events can be held outdoors for up to 4,000 people standing or 10,000 people seated. These may include worship and other activities and celebrations.

Regulated outdoor events must be organised by a representing body including a business, charity, or philanthropic and benevolent societies. This would include religious bodies (and non-religious belief groups). 

  • The organiser (responsible person) will need to prepare a risk assessment for the outdoor event which will determine how many people can attend and what mitigation needs to be put in place. The organiser is also responsible for ensuring that the risk assessed capacity is not exceeded and be prepared to turn people away to maintain this. The risk assessment should consider; If the activity is essential or is there a safer way of  holding the event e.g. virtually
  • How to manage the movement of people to avoid household mixing as they arrive, are on the site and as they leave.
  • How to maintain physical distancing between households during the  event.
  • Physical distancing between those taking part in the event and congregations
  • The size and layout of the space and how many people can attend
  • How to collect contact details
  • How to ensure good hand and respiratory hygiene
  • Identify frequently touched surfaces such as hand rails and benches that will need to be cleaned
  • Whether households need to  book in advance to avoid too many people attending
  • How they will communicate with those attending about the expected behaviours when they arrive at the event, during the event and as they leave.

The organiser should be able to control the outdoor space to ensure reasonable measures are taken 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.

It would be prudent for the organiser to inform the local authority and the Police of any large events they are planning to hold outdoors.

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 substantially enclosed spaces, as defined within the Smoke-free Premises and Vehicles (Wales) Regulations 2020 are not permitted to be used. These increase the opportunities for the virus to spread. It is possible to use an awning or marquee which is open on at least 50% of the wall area 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 allow for social distancing between households to be maintained.

Pastoral Care

If an individual is in need of pastoral support a faith leader may meet with that individual indoors as part of his/her work or in a volunteering or charitable capacity. This can include their own home where necessary.

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. 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 opening 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.

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

  • taking the necessary actions to mitigate any risks identified in any risk assessment (this is something that should be done);
  • 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 such as asking people to notify you of their intention to attend will assist with managing the flow of people in the building, with keeping records of who has attended and ensuring that the maximum capacity of the building is not breached;
  • 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;
  • avoiding 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. Wherever possible orders of service should be made available online or via QR codes;
  • using barriers or screens or other rooms to separate worshippers and different activities;
  • introduce signage and floor markings to guide worshippers, and where possible to introduce one way systems. 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. They should communicate the practises and procedures that have been put in place to manage worship, and should seek to maintain alternative ways to access worship or support so that those who should be self-isolating or are vulnerable can limit exposure to the virus.

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.

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
  • Hand rails should be regularly cleaned
  • 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 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. 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. 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 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 or leave a place of worship do not inadvertently gather. 

The more space that can be kept between those attending will help reduce the risk of transmitting the virus. The fewer people who attend will also make it easier to manage the flow of people especially when entering and leaving the building and in corridors.

If the number of people who wish to enter the building exceeds the number who can attend at one time (the capacity after taking into account the need to keep 2m distance) those responsible for the building should be prepared to turn people away and take measures to avoid people congregating outside the building.

All other reasonable measures, including those set out in 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 or aerosol produced when an infected person exhales, 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.

Historic England has also produced guidance on cleaning historic surfaces.

Who can attend

Those who are clinically extremely vulnerable should take extra precautions to minimise their contact with others.

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)

The Regulations require any person who has tested positive for coronavirus, or who has been notified by a contact tracer to self-isolate. Any person self-isolating should not attend a place of worship, save for funerals of close family members or friends for compassionate reasons. Anyone who has symptoms but has not yet had a test, is awaiting a test result, is part of a household of someone with symptoms or who has had a positive test result should also self-isolate and not attend. Read the guidance on self-isolation.

The advice for those who are extremely vulnerable (formerly shielding) continues to be particularly stringent in following social and physical distancing measures for their personal protection, when meeting people other than their extended households. 

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 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.

Test, Trace, 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.

The Health Protection (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 5) (Wales) Regulations 2020 requires reasonable measures to be taken to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus on premises open to the public and on any premises where work takes place, as well as to minimise the spread of coronavirus by those who have been on the premises.

One reasonable measure is:

Collecting contact information from each person at the premises or, in relation to persons from the same household, from one of them, and retaining it for 21 days for the purpose of providing it to any of the following, upon their request

  • the Welsh Ministers
  • a contact tracer

and taking reasonable measures to ensure that such contact information is correct. This should be managed in a way so as to avoid the possibility of people being in close proximity when they enter the place of worship and waiting to fill in forms. Pre-booking is recommended in order to avoid risks and to ensure that numbers can be managed and the maximum capacity of the building is not breached.

'Contact information', in relation to a person at the premises, means the person’s name and information sufficient to enable the person to be contacted (including a telephone number and the date and time at which the person was at the premises), to inform them that they may have been exposed to coronavirus at the premises.

Whether this measure is one that is “reasonable” and is, therefore, one that must be taken depends on the extent to which people who don’t know each other may interact on the premises and whether there is a risk of close interaction. Read further guidance

By adhering to these Regulations by undertaking reasonable measures to maintain records of staff, customers and visitors, and sharing these with the NHS Wales Test, Trace, Protect service when requested, you will help to identify people who may have been exposed to the virus and are asymptomatic (i.e. are not yet displaying symptoms). Containing outbreaks is crucial to reducing the spread of coronavirus, protecting the NHS in Wales and saving lives. This will support the country in returning to, and maintaining, a more normal way of life.

Face coverings

Everyone over the age of 11 attending a place of worship is required to wear a face covering, as it is an indoor public place. There are some limited exceptions to this requirement. The wearing of visors does not meet this requirement. The Regulations require the face covering to cover the nose and mouth. Those leading worship need not wear a face covering if it is not reasonable to do so. However they should consider a range of other mitigations to ensure they can provide a barrier to transmission such as distancing, screens, visors and additional hygiene measures. More information on Face coverings - guidance for the public.

Those responsible for places of worship should also refer to the guidance on face coverings for employers and managers of premises, which gives more information on places that allow access to the public.

Provision of other services

Places of worship can often be used as community centres and other purposes such as cafes. This guidance is particular to their use as a place of worship.

Relevant guidance for other purposes is available:

 

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