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Gov reiterates churches can stay open despite conflicting advice from English councils

by Tola Mbakwe

The UK Government has restated that churches in England are not mandated to stop gathering during lockdown, after many churches have been asked by local councils to do.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) told Premier in a statement: “Faith communities have provided support and solace during these very stressful times, and have worked hard to ensure they have been able to do so safely following the COVID-secure guidance for places of worship.

“In line with national guidelines, places of worship can remain open for communal worship and individual prayer, as long as they follow strict social distancing guidelines.”

This statement comes after church leaders across England have been getting letters from local councils and public health bodies encouraging them to move their services online.

Although the requests are asking for a "voluntary" closure of buildings, they go against Government guidance, so churches cannot face consequences if they decide to remain open.

Churches in Ealing, Lancashire, Bath, and Essex are among those who’ve received the letters.

Rev Pastor Ade Omooba (MBE), co-founder of Christian Concern, told Premier it’s inappropriate for councils to put pressure on churches to stop meeting as if it is their decision to make.

"Churches throughout the UK have demonstrated their responsibility - and indeed their safety - throughout the pandemic. It is right that church leaders continue to be trusted to decide if and how to meet, given their local circumstances and the needs of their members. They are also the heartbeat of many communities, providing vital support for vulnerable people through foodbanks and other services throughout the pandemic.”

MHCLG states that it is right that where infection rates are high, councils are discussing with places of worship in their areas what further steps might voluntarily be taken locally to keep people safe. However, final decisions about opening safely will rest with individual venue managers of the place of worship.

Also, where there are specific incidents of non-compliance or virus transmission at individual places of worship, there are powers that can be used to compel them to close to protect public safety.

The UK has recorded its highest number of Covid-19 deaths reported on a single day since the pandemic began, while figures for cases and hospital admissions have also hit record levels.

The Government said a further 1,325 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for Covid-19 as of Friday - bringing the UK total to 79,833.

Meanwhile, there were a further 68,053 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UK, the highest figure reported in a single day since the start of mass testing last May, although it may have been higher in April 2020, with cases estimated to have been as high as 100,000 per day at the peak of the first wave.

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