Advice for places of worship planning to re-open

Due to the communal nature of places of worship it has been necessary for the government to limit people's access to religious buildings in order to slow to spread of the coronavirus and reduce the loss of life.

Such restrictions to religious communities have understandably been difficult. However due to new guidance laid down by the government some leeway has been given and advice around how to operate safely has also been highlighted. Therefore the guidance below shows what is permissible and what is not for places of worship, as well as specific guidance around reopening.

This guidance is not intended to be a complete breakdown of government guidance and is only intended for initial information purposes.

All places of worship wishing to reopen should visit gov.uk to read guidance for the safe use of places of worship

PPE (Personal Protective Equipment)

It is worth noting that at present there is no government guidance requiring people visiting places of worship to wear PPE. It is only a requirement for frontline care workers and for people using public transport. Worshippers may choose to wear masks however it is advised that this is not a replacement for other ways of managing risk; social distancing, minimising time spent in contact, increasing hand and surface washing and self-isolating if infected.

More guidance on Personal Protective Equipment

On the basis of the guidance currently available, Bury Council cannot issue PPE to places of worship. We will, however, continue to support partners in the faith community through the following.

  • Providing advice - we will continue to update this web page as government advice changes.
  • Fortnightly meetings with faith leaders to share advice, provide support and answer questions.
  • Undertake a social media campaign to provide this advice direct to worshippers.

What places of worship can do under current government guidance

  • Funerals, in line with restrictions on those who can attend.
  • Broadcast an act of worship, whether over the internet or as part of a radio or television broadcast.
  • Provide essential voluntary services or urgent public support services, including providing food banks or other support for the homeless and vulnerable people, blood donation sessions, or support in an emergency.
  • Early years childcare provided by a person registered on the Early Years Register.
  • Open for individual prayer.
  • (From 4 July) Open for services and group prayer although still strongly advised to follow coronavirus secure guidelines.

  • (From 4 July) Weddings and civil partnerships will be allowed to take place but only for a maximum of 30 people.

What places of worship cannot do under current guidance

  • Communal or corporate worship
  • Services other than funerals, e.g. baptisms or coming of age ceremonies
  • Study groups, and out of school settings, including faith supplementary schools such as Sunday schools, madrassas or yeshivas
  • Lifestyle and leisure/recreational groups such as craft groups or exercise groups
  • Meetings including practices such as choir practice or bell ringing
  • Tourism - buildings should remain closed for tourism purposes

Preparing a place of worship for reopening

If employees, volunteers or contractors do not exhibit any of the previously stated coronavirus symptoms or belong to the shielded cohort they will be permitted to enter the place of worship for the purpose of making preparations so that the building can be used safely however the building must remain closed to the public during this time.

Activities necessary to prepare the venue may include the following.

  • Essential maintenance and repair.
  • Cleaning.
  • Reconfiguring the building to allow for social distancing.
  • Other activities in line with suggestions in this guidance, such as making hand sanitiser and paper towels available, ensuring a waste management system is in place, and removing communal objects such as books and prayer mats from use.

Staying safe whilst reopening places of worship for permitted reasons

Stopping the spread of the coronavirus is fundamental to keeping safe whilst reopening places of worship. Bearing this in mind, it is first advised that each religious establishment completes a Covid-19 risk assessment

Get the HSE risk assessment template

Carrying out a risk assessment will assist places of worship to protect its worshippers, volunteers and workers.

In addition to the risk assessment, the government advises that particular care should be taken in protecting people who are clinically vulnerable and more likely to develop severe illness.

Actions to protect these individuals should include the following.

  • Religious leaders, lay people, family, volunteers, staff and members of the public, including children, staying at home and self-isolating if they have a new, continuous cough or a high temperature or loss of or change to sense of smell or taste.
  • Individuals who are shielding should continue to follow the government's advice on shielding. If anyone becomes unwell with symptoms of the coronavirus in a place of worship they should be sent home and advised to follow the stay at home guidance. If they need clinical advice they should go online to NHS 111 (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.

Other issues to consider

Social distancing

Social distancing advice has been consistent since the start of the epidemic and continues to be paramount to stop the spread of the coronavirus. All managers of places of worship should therefore follow the guidance around social distancing shown below.

  • Strict adherence to social distancing of at least 2 metres. For frequently used places, mark areas using floor tape or paint to help people keep a 2m distance.
  • Queue management is important so the flow of groups in and out of the premises can be carefully controlled, reducing the risk of congestion or contact. Considerations should be made for how to manage those waiting outside a place of worship, including the introduction of socially distanced queuing systems.
  • Consider using screens, barriers or alternative rooms and spaces to separate worshippers.
  • Any changes to entrances, exits and queues should take into account reasonable adjustments to accommodate those who need them, such as worshippers with disabilities.
  • Where social distancing cannot be maintained, extra attention needs to be paid to cleaning and hygiene to reduce the risk of transmission.

Cleaning

All surfaces, especially those most frequently touched such as door handles and rails, should be cleaned regularly, using standard cleaning products.

The decision on how frequently a premises needs to be cleaned should also be considered and should be proportional to the risk of the spread of the virus and this can be defined through the use of a risk assessment.

It is also recognised that the virus is more likely to spread within enclosed spaces and for this reason it is also recommended that, where possible, doors and windows should be opened to improve ventilation.

Other measures that will usually be needed include the following.

  • Signs and posters to build awareness of good handwashing technique, the need to increase handwashing frequency, avoid touching your face and to cough or sneeze into a tissue which is binned safely, or into your arm if a tissue is not available.
  • Providing hand sanitiser in multiple locations in addition to toilet facilities
  • Providing hand drying facilities (preferably paper towels)

Hygiene

On entering and leaving a place of worship everyone, including staff, should be asked to wash their hands thoroughly for at least 20 seconds using soap and water or to use hand sanitiser if hand washing facilities are not available.

Hands should also be washed more regularly and for 20 seconds using soap and water or hand sanitiser- particularly after coughing, sneezing and blowing your nose.

If people feel like they might sneeze it is advised that they cover their mouth and nose with a tissue or, in the case that they don't have a tissue, their crook of their arms. Tissues should be disposed of hygienically and hands should be washed once again.

Moving forward

It is hoped that by accessing the information on this web page it will begin to start discussions around the appropriate measures that will need to be put in place in order for your place of worship to open safely and in line with current guidance. As stated previously, however, this document only shows some of the key guidance and all places of worship should therefore read the government guidance in order to be sure that they are in compliance with all guidance. A link to the government guidance is provided at the top of this page.