The Bishop of London has reacted to the Prime Minister's plans to ease England's coronavirus restrictions in the months ahead.
Rt Rev Sarah Mullally, who chairs the Church of England’s Coronavirus Recovery Group, thanked Boris Johnson for sharing proposals to ease the current restrictions and said advice would be refined for local churches in the weeks ahead:
"We all look forward to being able to meet in larger groups again later this year and today’s announcement will be especially encouraging for couples planning weddings, among others. When the first lockdown was introduced last year, we were as we are now in the midst of Lent, a time of preparation and self-reflection for Christians as we look forward with hope to Easter and its promise of new life in Jesus Christ. This has been an incredibly testing time for the whole world most of all the loved ones of those who have died."
"The financial cost of the pandemic has been enormous, and we will never truly know the cost of separation and loneliness on individuals and society. But we have also seen remarkable signs of hope. The rapid development and distribution of vaccines has been a phenomenal achievement and I want to thank everyone involved in the process. The way in which people have reached out to others has been inspirational. Our churches have loved and served their neighbours perhaps like never before and found ways to meet and worship God together we would not have imagined just a year ago. As we look ahead to the prospect of easing of restrictions we know it is still a long road. Yet Easter reminds us we always have hope," she added.
Churches in England have been permitted to remain open during the current lockdown, however, some faith leaders across the country have voluntarily chosen to close places of worship in the light of high coronavirus infection levels or because of concerns over safe social distancing in church buildings.
Under the prime minister's plans, in the first phase, all pupils in England's schools are expected to return to class from 8th March, with wider use of face masks and testing in secondaries. Socialising in parks and public spaces with one other person will also be permitted from that date.
A further easing of restrictions will take place on 29th March when the school Easter holidays begin - with larger groups of up to six people or two households allowed to gather in parks and gardens.
Other measures in the road map set out by the prime minister include:
- From 12th April at the earliest: shops, hairdressers, nail salons, libraries, outdoor attractions and outdoor hospitality venues such as beer gardens will reopen.
- From 17th May at the earliest, two households or groups of up to six people will be allowed to mix indoors and crowds of up to 10,000 in the largest venues will be allowed at performances and sporting events.
- Friends and family could finally be allowed to hug each other again, with the road map promising that advice on social distancing will be updated "as soon as possible" and no later than step three.
- From 21st June at the earliest, all remaining restrictions on social contact could be lifted, larger events, including weddings with unlimited guests can go ahead and nightclubs could finally reopen.
Additional reporting by PA