Today sees the lifting of the additional COVID measures brought in for England in response to Omicron. Scotland has also seen some restrictions around events and gatherings lifted this week. The big change in England is the removal of the face mask requirement for indoor venues.
Last week I updated my risk management assessment and advice for English churches post plan B. Not everyone liked my suggestion that we should continue to encourage voluntary mask wearing for a little while longer, limited to moving about in more crowded areas and my additional suggestion that where possible some may wish to wear masks when singing as a demonstration of concern for those who were more anxious.
As we’ve now reached the point where those restrictions are lifted, I thought it might be worth updating the risk assessment and sharing a bit on why I’m encouraging a gentle/cautious move out of the most recent restrictions.
First, here’s the updated risked assessment:
You will notice that I’ve returned the risk of infection spread to “high” again. This is because on reflection I concluded that I’d dropped this a little early as the case trends appeared to be following the most optimistic of scenarios.
This is what we’ve seen in terms of UK case reporting since.
The initial rapid drop off in cases tailed off towards the end of last week and we’ve even seen a couple of days of growth. This with case numbers still significantly above previous peak levels. The last couple of days have seen small reductions in reported cases and this may indicate a further period of decline or it may be that we will see cases plateau for a while. My suspicion is the latter with the easing of restrictions affecting voluntary behaviour coupled with school based infection spreading and winter weather which may well keep case numbers high for a little while. Don’t be surprised to see a significant drop in cases around February half term but also don’t be surprised if the trend is for cases to remain at high levels until the Spring.
So, objectively, the risk of case transmission at church events remains high. We need to be alert to that.
Subjectively we need to be aware of where everyone who is contemplating coming along to church gatherings is in terms of their assessment of the situation. I conducted one of my straw polls this week and got the following results (with the usual caveats).
I asked what people planned to do about wearing masks:
As you can see, the vast majority will continue to wear masks at least for some of the time. In other words, people will be making judgement calls both about the risks in certain contexts (crowds//ventilation) and presumably out of respect for others. Only 20% would not be expecting to wear a mask and that will include some who cannot for health reasons.
It’s worth combining that finding with a second question I asked about how people viewed the lifting of restrictions in England.
The majority support the lifting of all restrictions. However it is worth noting two things. First that support for lifting of legal restrictions may not be the same as expecting an end to people taking responsibility for individual measures. Second, 41.4% would like to see some restrictions continuing. I would suggest that we are going to be engaging with significant numbers of people who aren’t quite ready for everything to go back to the old normal.
Those are the reasons why I would encourage churches to continue to proceed cautiously. We should be able to return to the situation where we were prior to December and from there I would expect a continuing relaxing of the level of risk both objective and subjective.
So, to repeat, my advice continues to be
- Have plan in place for staff/volunteer absence.
- Continue to advise face masks when moving about/in more crowded areas. Ask people to think of others when making their own face mask choices.
- Have a COVID point of contact.
- Ask people to take an LFT before attending church gatherings/events.
I would expect these measures to be reviewed and potentially relaxed further towards half term.