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Govt says several Covid outbreaks have been associated with singing in church

by Cara Bentley

The Government has explained what evidence it has on the danger of singing and suggested guidelines for making it safer.

Communal singing in churches has not been allowed since before the lockdown. When churches began to meet physically again in the summer, only a small group of singers were allowed to lead the worship from the front - bands and choirs have been allowed to continue singing for online broadcasts since restrictions returned across the UK. 

Many Christians have lamented the lack of singing over the past eight months and claim there isn't much evidence to support its ban. Scientists have said speaking at a loud volume produces a similar amount of aerosol droplets to singing, which could contain the virus, and that the risk is linked to the volume and length of speaking or singing. 

The Government has released its explanation for limiting churches and the performance industry in this way, arguing that "several outbreaks of coronavirus have been associated with adult choir rehearsals and performances and in church congregations across the world". 

In guidance released over the weekend, it says "singing by adults produces both large droplets of respiratory secretions that generally fall onto surfaces within two metres of the singer, and small droplets that are carried on the air for some distance (aerosols)" and that "shouting or singing loudly can produce 20-times the mass of aerosol than speaking at a normal level of loudness."

It claims shouting and singing produce similar levels of aerosol and that the number of people singing, and the length of time for which they sing, all increase the risk of transmission. 

Regarding masks, the guidance on safer singing suggests they might be used more, but is not clear whether this is for the congregation or for those already allowed to sing: "Based on the evidence available to us now, it is not possible to be certain that wearing a face covering whilst singing reduces the transmission of the virus that causes Covid-19. However, since face coverings have been shown to reduce the mass of aerosol expelled during singing, their use might be considered as additional precautionary mitigation, where this is practicable."

The Government has also been clear about what they do not know regarding singing. For example, it is not clear whether the increased risk of infection when singing comes from the aerosols in the air or contaminated surfaces. It's also not clear whether choir-related outbreaks are the result of a single event or multiple infectious individuals and it is not known how much face coverings reduce the risk. 

It recommends five principles for safer singing: 

1.    People with symptoms or those who have had contact with others who have Covid-19 should not participate in singing or attend singing events.

2.    Singing should only take place in larger, well-ventilated spaces or outdoors.

3.    Performances or rehearsasl should be for limited periods of time at a reduced level of loudness, using microphones if available.

4.    Limit the number of people who sing together.
5.    Singers should be spaced at least two metres apart in all directions (at least one metre apart if the additional measures are applied).

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