Coronavirus: Places of worship to reopen for private prayer

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Group worship will still be banned by lockdown regulations over fears that the virus could spread

Places of worship will be allowed to open for private individual prayer under government plans to be announced next week.

These are not expected to include weddings of any size, or full services - which will come at a later date.

The prime minister is set to outline measures which will come into effect in England on 15 June.

Northern Ireland has already allowed private worship but Scotland and Wales have not yet done so.

Boris Johnson is expected to update his cabinet on the plans on Tuesday.

Ministers have been working with faith leaders on guidance for how places of worship can re-open safely with social distancing measures in place.

Individual churches, mosques, synagogues and temples will have to manage the number worshippers attending.

Downing Street says any changes are contingent on the government's five tests for easing lockdown continuing to be met.

'Reflect and pray'

Faith leaders have called for churches, mosques, synagogues and temples to be allowed to reopen as other lockdown measures have been lifted.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster and the most senior Roman Catholic in England and Wales, thanked the government and said the move was the "first, measured step in restoring" church services.

He said it was important that "every care is taken to ensure that the guidance given for this limited opening is fully observed, not least by those entering our churches".

But he added that "not every Catholic church will be open on 15 June".

"Local decisions and provision have to lead this process," he said.

While the burden of the lockdown has fallen evenly across the population, religious groups have been forced to sacrifice major festivals that punctuate their practice over the year.

Christians were unable to attend Holy Week services, Muslims have experienced Ramadan without communal Iftar meals each day.

The Jewish community experienced Passover without extended Seders and Sikhs were unable to mark the festival of Vaisakhi.

Although places of worship will reopen solely for private prayer, it seems the government was persuaded that if the public is ready to re-engage in retail therapy then people of faith ought to be allowed to enter places of worship.

All the major religious groups are preparing new hygiene protocols, doors are likely to be opened only for limited periods, numbers attending will be carefully controlled and there will be no communal worship.

But at a time of widespread grief and anxiety about the future, this will be a welcome opportunity to seek comfort and consolation in sacred spaces around the country.

A No 10 spokesperson said Mr Johnson recognised the importance of people being able to have space to "reflect and pray, to connect with their faith, and to be able to mourn for their loved ones" during the unprecedented time.

"We plan to open up places of worship for individual prayer in a safe, Covid-secure way that does not risk further transmission."

Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said ensuring places of worship could reopen was a priority as their "contribution to the common good of our country is clear".

He said: "People of all faiths have shown enormous patience and forbearance, unable to mark Easter, Passover, Ramadan or Vaisakhi with friends and family in the traditional way.

"As we control the virus, we are now able to move forwards with a limited but important return to houses of worship."

Places of worship have been closed for almost two months, and in some cases even longer, after closing their doors due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr Jenrick has warned that large gatherings will be difficult to manage for some time, particularly with the demographics in some religions and rituals such as singing which may lead to the virus. spreading more freely