UK urges wearing of masks during worship services

Big Ben
The Union flag flies in front of the Clock face on the Queen Elizabeth Tower, commonly referred to as Big Ben on April 2, 2019, in London, England. |

The government of the United Kingdom has updated its guidance regarding mask-wearing in houses of worship to prevent further spread of the coronavirus amid the ongoing pandemic.

The guidance, which was updated last week, now says that more than 30 people are permitted to gather and pray outside provided that social distancing takes place and a risk assessment occurs.

The guidance reads: “The number of people who are able to gather will be dependent on the size of the space available."

“Any risk assessment should also consider the security of worshippers. This may require involving local partners such as the police.”

The wearing of face coverings in churches, other houses of worship, and any other enclosed public spaces where people interact with those with whom they don't meet normally is now "encouraged." Masks remain required in places like supermarkets, retail shops, and on public transportation until Friday.

"Places of worship play an important role in providing spiritual leadership for many individuals, and in bringing communities and generations together. However, their communal nature also makes them places that are particularly vulnerable to the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19)," the guidance document states.

Regarding singing, when gathering outside the guidelines suggest that small groups of professional singers be able to sing in front of worshipers.

"Non-professionals (meaning those participating in performing arts other than for work purposes) should not engage in group singing at all," the guidance suggests.

For indoor gatherings, "one individual only should be permitted to sing or chant, and the use of plexi-glass screens should be considered to protect worshippers from them, as this will further prevent transmission and the screen can be easily cleaned."

"Where music plays a big part in worship, and recordings are available, we suggest you consider using these as an alternative to live singing."

The updated government guidelines also encourage faith leaders to discourage cash donations and use online giving and contactless forms of contributing instead.

According to Johns Hopkins University, the U.K. has the highest COVID-19 mortality rate at 15.3%, among 20 countries.

Still, across the U.K., coronavirus deaths dropped to their lowest level in England and Wales since the lockdown earlier this year, according to The Guardian Tuesday.

"Fatalities fell 31% in the week ending 10 July, to 366, continuing a downward trend for the past month. The overall number of deaths from all causes recorded across the two nations stood at 8,690 in the same week, 560 below the five-year average, making it the fourth week in a row where excess deaths were lower than in a typical year," the outlet reported.

"However, the number of deaths in private homes remains higher than normal. There were 2,960 deaths in homes, 706 higher than the five-year average."

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