So, how do you feel about the decision to end COVID-19 regulations on the 19th July? Some of you are no doubt excited and relieved to see those measures coming to an end, others perhaps frustrated that the end didn’t come sooner and many feeling extremely anxious, concerned that this has come too soon and may prove reckless.
It is helpful to observe exactly what is and isn’t happening. The Government are not saying that COVID has gone away and that its okay to abandon all measures, to stop hand sanitisation and face masking. Rather, the message is that it may still be advisable to follow such measures in certain situations.
There are benefits to such an approach and there are risks. The benefit is that it should allow for greater flexibility in decision making. For example, it makes sense for people to wear masks on a packed London Underground train but perhaps less so if you are the only person in a carriage on the last train home. Similarly, should a church be taking the same restrictive measures in an area where case rates are extremely low as where they are very high?
The risk of course is that people do not act responsibly and show concern for others. What if most people decide that they are young, healthy and vaccinated so they won’t mask up during rush hour? We are currently seeing a sudden, massive and exponential increase in cases in the Netherlands where all measures were removed and then young people quickly packed into nightclubs creating the perfect environment for the virus to spread.
Similarly, I think we’ve seen a little taste of the risk here with how church leaders have engaged with the singing question. Initially, the Government introduced some trial events such as concerts and football games (including the Euros) for larger gatherings. People were able to attend in large numbers and of course, especially at the football, they started to sing again. This led to two things. First of all, you also had fans singing at the pub and secondly, you had church leaders asking “If they can sing, why can’t we?” I think there are two answers to that which we may have missed. The reason for no enforcement in pubs was that singing was not a restriction under the regulations. This doesn’t mean that those venues didn’t break other legal responsibilities nor that there won’t be follow up. Secondly, we may have missed the point that the trial events required either testing either side or immunity certification. So risks were managed in other ways (plus football supporters were gathering outside).
So there is the risk that all measures are dropped once there is no regulatory compulsion to observe them.
For what it is worth, my personal view is that it is better over the long term to encourage individual responsibility rather than rely on regulation. However, it is important that if this happens, we do act responsibly. It means there will be more pressure not less on churches to make sacrifices.
So you will work out from this that on balance I agree with the July 19th reopening strategy but with reservations. But here is the thing, noone really cares what I think or this or that pastor. You see this us not our area of expertise and nor do we carry that weight of responsibility for our views.
So perhaps we should be slower to speak and condemn leaders for being either too authoritarian or too reckless. We should focus on what we are equipped and responsible for, the care of our congregations through uncertain days.
The next few weeks are going to be tense as we see how the country responds to unlocking and what affect that has on the virus.