The First Minister announced in her daily briefing at lunchtime today that, as from tomorrow, 8 August 2020, the wearing of face coverings is to become mandatory in places of worship. This will obviously affect any church services taking place this weekend and until further notice.
Since the announcement at lunchtime, formal Regulations have now been laid before the Scottish Parliament and apply from tomorrow. The issues of which to take note are as follows:
- The Scottish Episcopal Church’s Advisory Group Phase 3 guidance, as most recently revised earlier this week, currently “encourages” the wearing of face coverings. Clearly that must be stepped up and churches must now conform to the new law which takes precedence over the guidance. This means that, subject to exceptions mentioned below, those in church must wear face coverings. The exceptions are as follows:-
- The person leading the act of worship does not need to wear a covering provided that either there is partition (eg screen) between that person and anyone else or a distance of at least 2 metres is maintained between that person and any other person. In practice therefore, if the clergyperson, lay reader or other person leading the service is sufficiently far away from the rest of the congregation (ie at least 2m) they need not wear a covering. Where that 2m distance cannot be maintained, a covering must be worn and so, for example, those administering Communion must wear a covering while doing so.
- The exemption also applies to “volunteers” in places of worship which would seem to allow that if a person is leading intercessions or reading from a lectern then they may remove their face covering provided the 2m distancing is maintained or a partition is in place. It is recommended that any such volunteer should replace their covering as soon as they have finished the intercessions/reading or similar activity. The exemption should not be seen as a carte blanche for volunteers not to wear a covering, and so volunteers performing other functions should continue to wear one.
- Those excused from wearing a face covering include children under the age of 5 and people who cannot, without severe distress, put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment or disability.
- Coverings may be removed where necessary to seek medical assistance, or to provide care or assistance to a vulnerable person.
All of these various requirements should also be applied for weddings and funerals.
- The Scottish Government’s own guidance for Places of Worship is to be updated and will available during the course of Saturday 8 August 2020 at: safe use of places of worship guidance. Under the Regulations published today, those responsible for a place of worship are now legally obliged to “have regard to” such guidance. The SEC Advisory Group’s guidance has from the outset endeavoured to reflect and apply, for the SEC context, previous versions of that Scottish Government guidance, and so the Government guidance to be published on 8 August should not contain any surprises.
- The First Minister also announced today that the wearing of a visor is no longer to be regarded as an adequate face covering. The Advisory Group has been considering that specific question this week. Essentially, a visor protects the person wearing it from airborne droplets. A conventional face covering, on the other hand, is designed to protect not the wearer but other people. Consequently, whilst visors can continue to be worn, they must now be supplemented by a face covering (unless covered by the above exceptions).
The Advisory Group will revise and reissue its Phase 3 guidance next week in the light of today’s announcement.