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Kelvin Boyes and Press Eye PA Media
Kelvin Boyes and Press Eye PA Media
UK News

NI govt set to consult faith leaders on moving all services online due to Covid-19 spike

by Will Maule

Government ministers at Stormont are set to meet with faith leaders to discuss moving all worship services online in a bid to stem the rate of rising Covid-19 infections across Northern Ireland. Under the current lockdown rules, religious buildings are permitted to remain open, despite the majority of businesses being shut and people being asked to stay at home 

First Minister Arlene Foster said she was seeking a "voluntary agreement" with religious leaders, noting the need for upholding religious freedom.

"The last thing that I want to have to do is to put regulations in against faith and against worship," she said. 

Many congregations have already taken the decision to move all their gatherings online, with the Church of Ireland and Methodist Church confirming that they know of several congregations that have decided not to use their building at all during the lockdown.

The Church of Ireland said it will "continue to follow all public health guidance provided by state authorities, in order to help protect public health in the communities which we serve." 

It added: "Parishes are allowed to have flexibility to take local circumstances into consideration, and several parishes in Northern Ireland have therefore decided, at this stage, to suspend in-person public worship and continue with services in an online format."

Many churches have adapted to the pandemic by holding drive-in services.

Foster told BBC Ulster that she "would prefer that we worked together on this issue", rather than issuing a blanket ban on in-person church gatherings, "because it is so important for many, many people that they can come together to worship God".

Northern Ireland's Nightingale Hospital, based at Belfast City Hospital, is set to be expanded in order to deal with an influx of Covid-19 patients. Yesterday, the Department of Health confirmed that the number of intensive care beds would be increased from 24 to 32. 

The DoH also reported a further 13 coronavirus-related deaths in Northern Ireland, taking the total to 1,397.

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