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

Northern Ireland: Churches to remain open despite strict new Covid lockdown

by Will Maule

Churches in Northern Ireland will be permitted to keep their doors open despite the imposition of a so-called "circuit breaker" lockdown.

The new restrictions, which will be in place for the next month, institute a mandatory requirement for worshippers to use face coverings when entering and exiting their church buildings. 

In terms of the broader restrictions on social contact, bubbling will now be limited to a maximum of ten people from two households, with out-of-bubble overnight stays being strictly prohibited.

The hospitality sector will be shut down entirely, apart from deliveries and takeaways for food.

Funerals will be limited to 25 people with no post-service gatherings allowed and schools will also be closed from Monday for two weeks, with one of them coinciding with the half-term break. 

Also from Monday, wedding ceremonies will be limited to 25 people with no receptions allowed.

The DUP's MP for Strangford, Jim Shannon, told Premier he would have liked to see a more "localised" set of restrictions, not least because his area has the "second-lowest cases in the whole of the province".

Shannon said that churchgoers are already wearing masks and will continue to follow the latest guidance. In his own case, he said he wears a mask from the moment he gets in his car to go to church, and then keeps it on all the way through the service. The only time he removes it, he said, is during communion. 

"We've adhered to those rules...rules that are maybe above and beyond what they had asked us to do," Shannon added, noting that he was "encouraged" that the government has let church continue during the pandemic. "[Churches] are very, very important for the emotional well being... the spiritual well being of people," he added. 

Evangelical Alliance Director, Peter Lynas, told Premier that he was "disappointed" by the sudden blanket lockdown. "The speed at which this is happening is causing confusion for people and a certain amount of upset and anxiety," he said, noting that the closure of schools will have an adverse impact on the economy. 

"Schools closing obviously leads to people having to take time off work to look after children. So that looks like two weeks initially, but again, they're not guaranteeing that that's going to be the end of it. And then that leads to problems on the economy with the hospitality sector closing, so a lot of people saying they survived the first round, but the furlough is not as strong this time...there are real concerns that businesses will close, jobs will be lost." 

Lynas said that there were also "real concerns about isolation" now that you are not allowed to meet anywhere like restaurants or cafes. 

"A lot of isolation for people, older people, single parents, people living alone. Yes, you can form a bubble, but this was the one place you could meet people in a kind of more organized way. So real concerns for children, adults, everybody in terms of isolation at this moment," he added. 

Lynas said that he was "really happy" that churches will remain open during the temporary lockdown. "We know we're providing a very valuable service to a lot of people in terms of their ability to meet, but also the kind of services they provide to the community in terms of food banks and other things. So it's hugely important," he explained. "They've done a great job in terms of social distancing and masks...there's no reports of any outbreaks associated with churches. So they provide a massive function in society." 

Lynas said Christians should be "praying for our political leaders" at this difficult time. "These are not easy decisions that they've had to make. Lots of people have various views on that, but nonetheless, we have to pray for those in those positions of authority," he added. 

"We need to be praying for our church leaders, they're finding this increasingly challenging and difficult to navigate. But for those who's jobs are under pressure, maybe losing their businesses or their very livelihood, there's a lot of anxiety and fear out there, and right at the core of the biblical story is a story of hope, 'Do not fear, do not worry'...not in a glib way, but because of where we ultimately see our foundations in Jesus.

"So we'd love your prayers for both the church and our society as a whole in Northern Ireland, that we see an end to this virus that has caused so much devastation and is a real threat to people's lives and livelihoods in this moment." 



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