Coronavirus related Legislation:
Briefing for churches in Wales

Every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of this information, but it should not be relied upon for the purposes of legal advice.

Regulations for places of worship in Wales from December 26 2021 (Level 2 restrictions)

The full text of the Public Health (Coronavirus Restrictions) (No. 5) (Wales) Regulations, as amended, can be read here. Currently the principal regulations (pp 4-54) and Schedule 2 (pp 63-71) are operational. Welsh Government has published a summary of the principal requirements at Level 2 and answers to frequently asked questions.

Welsh Government’s general guidance includes useful information about how the virus spreads and drawing attention to activities which cause particular risk – such as singing. The guidance ends with 11 basic questions which should be asked in drawing up a risk assessment. There is also an action card with more specific information for places of worship. This action card should be read alongside the general guidance.

Clause 18 of the regulations places a duty on anyone responsible for “regulated premises” to have regard to this guidance (and other relevant guidance from Welsh Government). It is important, therefore, that those responsible for places of worship or particular activities read this guidance carefully.

Face coverings

It is a requirement under Clause 20 of the Regulations for all those aged over 11 to wear a face covering in indoor public spaces, including places of worship.

The exceptions to this requirement are limited. Here they are in full:

(a) where P is unable to put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or a disability (within the meaning of section 6 of the Equality Act 2010);
(b) where P is undertaking an activity and wearing a face covering during that activity may be considered to be a risk to P’s health;
(c) where P has to remove the face covering to communicate with a person who has difficulty communicating (in relation to speech, language or otherwise);
(d) where P has to remove the face covering in order to avoid harm or injury, or the risk of harm or injury, to P or others;
(e) where P is at the premises to avoid injury, or to escape a risk of harm, and does not have a face covering;
(f) where P has to remove the face covering to— (i) take medication; (ii) eat or drink, where reasonably necessary;
(g) where P is asked to remove the face covering by an enforcement officer.

Under Regulation 20(2)(aa) it is not necessary for those attending marriage, civil partnership or “an alternative wedding ceremony” (such as services of blessing of a marriage) to wear face coverings. HOWEVER, Welsh Government guidance on face coverings  says as follows:

Face coverings are not required to be worn in indoor wedding, civil partnership or alternative wedding ceremonies by any of the participants.  Operators of venues being used for ceremonies may, however, identify wearing face coverings in their risk assessment as a reasonable measure to be taken. If this is the case, members of the public are asked to comply.
Although it is not a legal obligation for face coverings to be worn at ceremonies of this kind, we strongly advise that people wear them voluntarily. This applies to all people present, staff and attendees, unless exempt. Any premises holding the ceremony may require staff and customers to wear face coverings as a reasonable measure identified by their risk assessment.

Note that there is no exemption for events where people are seated (unless they are eating or drinking). Neither is there any exemption for singing (whether congregational singing or a choir rehearsal).

There is no legal exemption for worship leaders. However, Welsh Government’s previous guidance for places of worship said: Those leading worship need not wear a face covering if it impractical to do so. However they should consider a range of other mitigations to ensure they can provide a barrier to transmission such as distancing, screens, visors and additional hygiene measures. We recommend keeping to this guidance when drawing up a risk assessment.

A place of worship cannot be exempted from the requirement regarding face coverings by drawing up a risk assessment showing that they are not required – they are a legal requirement.

Restrictions on the size of events

Schedule 2 restricts attendance at most indoor organised events to 30 people. Children under 11 years of age, carers of those attending and those working or volunteering in the event (such as leaders, stewards, etc.) could be additional to these numbers. These upper limits are not applicable to marriage or funeral services, where the capacity is set by the numbers who can occupy the venue while maintaining 2m distancing between each group of people. The same applies to indoor religious services in general, where it is held in premises ordinarily used for that purpose. This means that a building not ordinarily used for worship may not be hired in order to hold a service for more than 30 people. (A building which is regularly hired to hold religious services, however, could be used to host a service for more than 30).

Outdoor organised events are restricted to 500 people, again not including those working or volunteering at the event, carers and children under 11. There is an exception to this upper limit in the case of a religious service, but Welsh Government advice, which is endorsed by Cytûn, is that extreme caution should be exercised in arranging any outdoor worship involving more than 500 people, even though technically legal, as members of the public might misunderstand the situation or protest about the exemption for worship.

Organising worship and other events in places of worship and community centres

In accordance with clause 16 of the regulations, in the context of COVID-19 the principal legal duty (in addition to the usual requirements of health and safety legislation) of the ‘person’ (which can be a body such as a PCC or deacons’ meeting) responsible for any premises open to the public (“regulated premises”) is to take the following four steps. Additional information about each step can be seen below:

Step 1

Undertake a specific assessment of the risk of exposure to coronavirus at the premises, and in doing so consult persons working on the premises or representatives of those persons.

Step 2

Provide information to those entering or working at the premises about how to minimise the risk of exposure to coronavirus, including information to those working at the premises about the risk of exposure to coronavirus identified under the assessment undertaken under Step 1, and the measures to be taken under Step 3 to minimise the risk.

Step 3

Take all reasonable measures to ensure—
(a) that a distance of 2 metres is maintained between any persons indoors on the premises, except between members of a permitted group;
(b) where persons are required to wait indoors to enter the premises, that a distance of 2 metres is maintained between them, except between members of a permitted group.

Step 4

Take reasonable measures to mitigate the risk of exposure to coronavirus that arises where persons gather on the premises, such as—
(a) seeking to prevent the following persons from being present at the premises—
(i) (ii) any person who is required to not leave or be outside of the place where the person is living …, (iii) any person experiencing symptoms associated with COVID-19;
(b) ensuring that persons gathering at the premises gather outdoors where this is practicable;
(c) limiting close physical interaction between persons on the premises, in particular face-to face interaction, for example by—
(i) changing the layout of premises including the location of furniture and workstations;
(ii) controlling the use of entrances, passageways, stairs and lifts;
(iii) controlling the use of shared facilities such as toilets and kitchens;
(iv) otherwise controlling the use of, or access to, any other part of the premises;
(v) installing barriers or screens;
(d) limiting the duration of time for which persons may be present on the premises;
(e) seeking to ensure that the premises are well ventilated;
(f) maintaining good hygiene on the premises;
(g) providing or requiring use of personal protective equipment.

(1A) In determining the extent to which it is reasonable to take a particular measure under Step 3, regard may be had to measures taken under Step 4 to mitigate the risk of exposure to coronavirus that arises when any person is within a distance of 2 metres of another person.

[Sub-paragraph 2 deleted]

(3) Measures that may be taken under paragraph (1) include—
(a) not carrying out certain activities;
(b) closing a part of the premises;
(ba) allowing or requiring persons who ordinarily work at the premises to work from home;
(c) allowing and enabling a person who ordinarily works at the premises to isolate due to testing positive for coronavirus or having had close contact with somebody who has tested positive, for a period—(i) recommended in guidance published by the Welsh Ministers; (ii) specified in a notification given to the person by a contact tracer;
(d) collecting contact information from each person at the premises and retaining it for 21 days for the purpose of providing it to any of the following, upon their request— (i) the Welsh Ministers; (ii) a contact tracer;
(e) taking reasonable measures to ensure that such contact information is correct.

Step One – Conducting a risk assessment

It is a legal obligation on the ‘person’ (individual or body) responsible for “regulated premises” (including places of worship, community centres, etc) to undertake a risk assessment prior to allowing public access to the premises for any purpose. Denominational arrangements vary, but in general it will be those responsible for other aspects of health and safety in the premises or activity concerned who will carry the legal responsibility for drawing up a Covid risk assessment.

Welsh Government has chosen to word the regulations by referring to Health and Safety regulations made in 1999, which have been amended several times since, and then require them to be read as if they were worded differently from the actual wording. So, in order to assist our member churches to update their risk assessment and templates in accordance with the law, we have prepared a guide to what is now mandatory, which can be downloaded here.

Risk-assessment-regulations-08-21

We would draw particular attention to five aspects of the regulations:

  1. The effect of the regulations is to make conducting a full risk assessment – covering general health and safety risks and fire risks as well as the risks related to coronavirus – mandatory for all “regulated premises”, even for premises where that was not previously the case.
  2. It is a requirement to ‘consult’ about the risk assessment with those who are ‘working’ in the premises. ‘Working’ here includes unpaid work. As many members of a congregation will volunteer in various ways, in practice this means consulting with the active members of the congregation. Welsh Government guidance regarding volunteering includes useful guidance on this. As most tasks required to operate places of worship and faith communities are carried out on a voluntary basis, this guidance will be helpful to places of worship in making arrangements for keeping their volunteers safe.
  3. The regulations require a review of the risk assessment to be made each time the coronavirus regulations are amended or the uses of the premises change (as this would be a significant change in the matters to which it relates) and also when the wider situation regarding the pandemic changes (as this would be reason to suspect that it is no longer valid).
  4. The regulations require the risk assessment to be in writing when five or more persons are working at the premises. As ‘working’ includes working voluntarily, this would cover nearly all circumstances likely to be relevant to faith communities. The regulations also require consultation with these ‘workers’ in drawing up the risk assessment.
  5. There are special requirements relating to risk assessment for young people ‘working’ in the premises.

We hope that the document will be of assistance to you, but please note that it is not legal advice, and professional advice should be sought if there is any doubt about how to apply the regulations in your particular circumstances.

The Church in Wales has produced guidance and a template for risk assessment for churches, which can be adapted for use by other denominations. It has also produced specific risk assessments for (infant) baptism; weddings and funerals; communion; and for church halls. These can all be found on the Church in Wales’ website.

Welsh Government has prepared a template for a Covid risk assessment. The Health and Safety Executive has produced a similar Covid risk assessment template. Not all sections will be relevant to all places of worship, and there may be other risks which you should consider, but either template is recommended as a useful starting point.
Welsh Government is also producing action cards for a variety of settings and types of activity. The most appropriate ‘card’ may be used as a starting point in drawing up your own specific risk assessment.

A risk assessment will need to be based on the prevalence of Covid-19 in the catchment area of the place of worship or activity concerned. Information about your area can be found on the Public Health Wales interactive dashboard. A table by local authority area can be found here. You can also use the drop-down menu to find more local information by hovering over the map provided under the ‘MSOA area’ tab. Use the drop down boxes to look at information for the ‘rolling 7 days’ – as daily figures vary greatly depending on the day of the week. As well as the local infection rate, it makes a difference if the number of cases is rising or falling.

There are, of course, other legal requirements – such as general health and safety, safeguarding children and vulnerable adults, data protection, and so on – which remain in force also, and they should not be forgotten when making arrangements to worship or hold other activities.

Step 2 – Providing information

In practice, this will be the final step to be implemented – the provision of information to the public on the arrangements you have made in accordance with steps 1, 3 and 4.

Welsh Government’s action card for places of worship says:

This could include announcements, clear signage (e.g. signs, floor tape or paint) for limits on the number people present in a particular area or room, queuing systems and one way systems.

Welsh Government has published bilingual signage, and signage in a number of other languages, that can be downloaded and displayed.

Step 3 – Maintaining a distance of 2m between each “permitted group”

Clause 16(4A) says that “permitted group” means— … a group which— (i) consists of no more than 6 people, not counting any persons under the age of 11 or any carer of a person in the group, or (ii) consists of members of the same household and any carer of a member of the household;

This means that it is legal for premises, including places of worship, to permit people not from the same household to sit in groups of up to 6 people. However, places of worship or activity organisers are not obliged to permit this – they can, in accordance with their risk assessment, decide to require that only members of the same household sit together; or that a group must book in advance; or permit smaller groups only (for example, groups of 2 or 3 in order to permit people who would otherwise need to sit alone to have some company). The authorities of any premises, including places of worship, have the legal right to draw up a risk assessment to this effect and implement it. However, given that members of the public will be used to sitting in groups of up to 6 in cafes, pubs, etc., it may be useful to be ready to explain the decision to those who question it (for example, by reference to the numbers of vulnerable people in attendance).

Clause 16(1A) of the regulations adds, In determining the extent to which it is reasonable to take a particular measure under Step 3, regard may be had to measures taken under Step 4 to mitigate the risk of exposure to coronavirus that arises when any person is within a distance of 2 metres of another person. That is, if all the measures listed in Step 4 of the regulations are taken, it may be reasonable to permit people to be within 2 metres of one another for a brief period (for example, when waiting to receive communion) or when the risk in the location has been substantially reduced by those measures. The exact details will depend on the precise nature of the occasion, its length, and all the circumstances of the location, and this should be carefully recorded in the risk assessment.

Step 4 – Reasonable measures to mitigate risk

In addition to the measures which must be taken (ensuring the wearing of face coverings and taking reasonable measures to ensure a distance of 2m between each “permitted group”), the regulations list a number of other measures that may be invoked. In deciding which combination of measures is reasonable and practicable, it may be helpful to refer to Welsh Government’s Hierarchy of controls.

(a) seeking to prevent the following persons from being present at the premises….

The purpose of this measure is to make it obligatory to seek to prevent people who should be isolating from attending. The regulations regarding self-isolating change from time to time; see Welsh Government’s current guidance for the details. Note that what is reasonable is to “seek” to prevent such attendance – places of worship are not expected to be able to require people to disclose personal information nor to physically prevent people from entering the premises.

Cluse 10(2)(e) of the regulations provide an exemption to enable those who are self-isolating to attend the funeral of a family member or close friend. Welsh Governmemnt guidance recommends the following for such a situation:

taking particular care in relation to any such person present – including by requiring that person to wear a face covering, maintaining strict physical distancing, reducing the length of the funeral service, ensuring good ventilation and holding as much of the funeral as possible outside.

(b) ensuring that persons gathering at the premises gather outdoors where this is practicable;

This may not necessarily be reasonable during the winter, but on a fine day it should be considered. Note that a maximum of 50 people may gather outdoors under Level 2 restrictions. This maximum does not include children under 11, carers of those attending, nor those working or volunteering at the event (such as leaders, stewards, etc.). Schedule 2 clause 4(i)(iv) exempts a “religious service” from this maximum, but Welsh Government advises that very careful consideration should be given to arranging an outdoor service that is larger than this, as the situation might be misunderstood or opposed by members of the public. The maximum is applicable to all other outdoor events arranged by churches or faith communities.

(c) limiting close physical interaction between persons on the premises, in particular face-to face interaction, for example by—
(i) changing the layout of premises including the location of furniture and workstations;
(ii) controlling the use of entrances, passageways, stairs and lifts;
(iii) controlling the use of shared facilities such as toilets and kitchens;
(iv) otherwise controlling the use of, or access to, any other part of the premises;
(v) installing barriers or screens;

Note that the above are examples. Some of these measures will be impractical or irrelevant in some premises; but other measures not listed here might be possible.

(d) limiting the duration of time for which persons may be present on the premises;

Many places of worship have shortened their worship and other activities in order to reduce risk, and also because ventilating the premises (see the next paragraph) tends to mean that it becomes uncomfortable after a period.

(e) seeking to ensure that the premises are well ventilated;

Welsh Government guidance for places of worship recommends the following:

  • Maximising natural or mechanical ventilation (and not recirculating air). Airflow can be improved by opening windows and propping open internal doors (but not fire doors) where possible for the duration of a service or between activities.
  • Making sure mechanical ventilation systems are effectively maintained and have been serviced.

Fuller information can be found in Welsh Government general guidance (scroll down to the section headed ‘Improving ventilation’) and in the guidance from the Health and Safety Executive, and we would draw attention especially to the practical suggestions in sections 4-6.

(f) maintaining good hygiene on the premises;

Here are the recommendations of Welsh Government in its guidance for places of worship:

  • Regular cleaning and disinfection of surfaces and equipment. Allowing for breaks between service and ensuring thorough and regular cleaning, using disinfectant in high footfall areas and in high contact touchpoints such as door handles or rails.
  • Where objects are touched as part of worship, cleaning the object between each worshipper that touched it  and require worshipers to sanitise or wash their hands before and after touching the object. .
  • Providing hand sanitiser and encouraging regular hand washing.

(g) providing or requiring use of personal protective equipment.

This includes provision of appropriate protective equipment for those (whether paid or unpaid) who clean the premises, and the use of face coverings (see top of this page).

The only protective equipment required in most circumstances will be Face coverings. It is a requirement under Clause 20 of the Regulations for all those aged over 11 to wear a face covering in indoor public spaces, including places of worship

The exceptions to this requirement are limited. Here they are in full:

(a) where P is unable to put on, wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment, or a disability (within the meaning of section 6 of the Equality Act 2010);
(b) where P is undertaking an activity and wearing a face covering during that activity may be considered to be a risk to P’s health;
(c) where P has to remove the face covering to communicate with a person who has difficulty communicating (in relation to speech, language or otherwise);
(d) where P has to remove the face covering in order to avoid harm or injury, or the risk of harm or injury, to P or others;
(e) where P is at the premises to avoid injury, or to escape a risk of harm, and does not have a face covering;
(f) where P has to remove the face covering to— (i) take medication; (ii) eat or drink, where reasonably necessary;
(g) where P is asked to remove the face covering by an enforcement officer.

Under Regulation 20(2)(aa) it is not necessary for those attending marriage, civil partnership or “an alternative wedding ceremony” (such as services of blessing of a marriage) to wear face coverings. HOWEVER, Welsh Government guidance on face coverings  says as follows:

Face coverings are not required to be worn in indoor wedding, civil partnership or alternative wedding ceremonies by any of the participants.  Operators of venues being used for ceremonies may, however, identify wearing face coverings in their risk assessment as a reasonable measure to be taken. If this is the case, members of the public are asked to comply.
Although it is not a legal obligation for face coverings to be worn at ceremonies of this kind, we strongly advise that people wear them voluntarily. This applies to all people present, staff and attendees, unless exempt. Any premises holding the ceremony may require staff and customers to wear face coverings as a reasonable measure identified by their risk assessment.

Note that there is no exemption for events where people are seated (unless they are eating or drinking) Neither is there any exemption for singing (whether congregational singing or a choir rehearsal).

There is no legal exemption for worship leaders. However, Welsh Government’s previous guidance for places of worship said: Those leading worship need not wear a face covering if it impractical to do so. However they should consider a range of other mitigations to ensure they can provide a barrier to transmission such as distancing, screens, visors and additional hygiene measures. We recommend keeping to this guidance when drawing up a risk assessment.

A place of worship cannot be exempted from the requirement regarding face coverings by drawing up a risk assessment showing that they are not required – they are a legal requirement.

(3) Measures that may be taken under paragraph (1) include—
(a) not carrying out certain activities;

Where events can be held online, or postponed until after the current wave of Covid has subsided, this should be done. Where face to face meetings continue, the principal activity about which careful consideration should be given to its not being carried out is singing.

Welsh Government guidance for places of worship say the following regarding singing:

  • Singing or chanting increases the amount of aerosol expelled into the air from people’s mouths. Reducing the amount of singing or stopping singing can help to reduce the risk of transmission.
  • If singing or chanting takes place, other mitigations should be put in place, which could include improving ventilation, moving the activity outdoors, increasing the space between people, or having fewer people present

Places of worship and organisers of events involving singing should take careful account of recent tragic events in Cowbridge. We understand that a second member of the choir has now died

(b) closing a part of the premises;

(ba) allowing or requiring persons who ordinarily work at the premises to work from home;

Clause 18B of the Regulations provides no person may leave the place where they are living, or remain away from that place, for the purposes of work or to provide voluntary or charitable services provided that it is reasonably practicable for the person to work or to provide voluntary or charitable services from the place where they are living. This condition is far from specific, but we have been assured by Welsh Government officials that it is not intended to close places of worship entirely. But as all activities arranged in places of worship depend on those who work or provide voluntary or charitable services, careful consideration should be given in each instance as to whether the activity could be held with people in their own homes – using online communication, phone, etc.

Schedule 2 limits gatherings in private homes (including manses, vicarages and church workers’ accommodation) to 30 people, and in private gardens to 50 people. But this is subject to the requirement to work or volunteer from one’s own home where that is reasonably practicable. So churches should consider very carefully whether it is appropriate to arrange activities in private dwellings or gardens. If it is decided to do so, although private dwellings are not “regulated premises”, Cytûn strongly recommends that a risk assessment be conducted and safety measures put in place equivalent to those that would apply if the activity or meeting were being held in a place of worship or community centre.

(c) allowing and enabling a person who ordinarily works at the premises to isolate…

See current Welsh Government guidance on isolating for further advice.

(d) collecting contact information from each person at the premises and retaining it for 21 days for the purpose of providing it to any of the following, upon their request— (i) the Welsh Ministers; (ii) a contact tracer;
(e) taking reasonable measures to ensure that such contact information is correct.

It is a matter for each place of worship, in its risk assessment, to consider whether it is reasonable to ask for this information. There may be some activities – including worship and support groups – for which it would not be reasonable to ask for this personal information if other safety measures are in place. Full guidance on keeping Test, Trace, Protect records can be found here.

It is not compulsory in Wales to set up a QR code for places of worship to enable use of the Covid-19 app, but this may be done if desired.

Covid passes

Clause 16A of the Regulations makes it a requirement to ask for an NHS Covid pass  or an equivalent proof (the Regulations go into detail on what will be regarded as equivalent, e.g. proof of vaccination in some other countries only) before admitting those over 18 years of age to the following:

(a) Night clubs (defined in detail in Regulation 16A (2)(a))
(b) premises at which an event is taking place and more than 10,000 people are in attendance at any time;
(c) premises at which an event is taking place to any extent indoors, where— (i) more than 500 people are in attendance at any time, and (ii) not all the persons attending the event are normally seated during the event;
(d) premises at which an event is taking place outdoors, where— (i) more than 4,000 people are in attendance at any time, and (ii) not all the persons attending the event are normally seated during the event;
(e) a cinema, other than a drive-in cinema;
(f) a concert hall or theatre, other than a drive-in theatre.

Marriage ceremonies are exempt from these regulations, but not other religious activities, so when faith communities arrange large scale events covered by clauses (b), (c) or (d) they will need to implement these regulations.

We have received confirmation from Welsh Government regarding clauses (e) and (f) as follows – The covid pass would not apply to a place of worship or community centre that was showing a film or having a concert etc. This is because it remains a Place of Worship or Community Centre despite its occasional use otherwise. If it were dedicated to the purpose so that it were classed as a Cinema, Concert Hall or Theatre then the pass would apply.

Cytûn would add that it may be wise for places of worship who hold such activities, when drawing up the risk assessment for the occasion, to consider asking for Covid passes. Whether or not to do so would be a matter for decision by the trustees/managers of the premises on the basis of risk.

Funerals and weddings

There is no legal restriction on who, or how many, may attend a funeral or wedding service, within the capacity of the premises to ensure 2m social distancing between “permitted groups” (see above). But in drawing up a risk assessment, it should be remembered that congregations on such occasions may be larger than usual, and include people who are not aware of the arrangements made in places of worship to keep people safe.

Welsh Government guidance regarding funeral services is part of the ‘action card’ for places of worship, available here. It is the responsibility of the appropriate authority covering the place of worship concerned to compile and implement the risk assessment for a funeral service in the place of worship. Equivalent responsibilities will be borne by the authorities covering the cemetery or crematorium and any hospitality setting that are serving the same family. Usually, the funeral director will be able to advise on the implications of the risk assessments for the various elements of the day.

The following passage in the action card, regarding the presence at funerals of individuals who may have tested positive, should be noted carefully:
As (exceptionally) a person who has tested positive for coronavirus may attend a funeral of a family member or close friend on compassionate grounds, taking particular care in relation to any such person present – including by requiring that person to wear a face covering, maintaining strict physical distancing, reducing the length of the funeral service, ensuring good ventilation and holding as much of the funeral as possible outside. 

Welsh Government has suspended the regulations introduced last year enabling the making of emergency arrangements for the disposal of the dead should numbers of deaths exceed the capacity of crematoria and cemeteries.

Welsh Government no longer publishes specific guidance for weddings and civil partnership ceremonies, marriage blessings and the like. It is the responsibility of the appropriate authority covering the place of worship concerned (and not the family) to compile and implement the risk assessment for a wedding service in the place of worship. However, the family (or wedding organiser, if there is one) will need to co-ordinate the risk assessments of the hospitality settings, transport providers etc for the various elements of the day.

Regulation 20(2)(aa) provides that it is not necessary for those attending marriage, civil partnership or “an alternative wedding ceremony” (such as services of blessing of a marriage) to wear face coverings. HOWEVER Welsh Government guidance on face coverings states:

Face coverings are not required to be worn in indoor wedding, civil partnership or alternative wedding ceremonies by any of the participants.  Operators of venues being used for ceremonies may, however, identify wearing face coverings in their risk assessment as a reasonable measure to be taken. If this is the case, members of the public are asked to comply.
Although it is not a legal obligation for face coverings to be worn at ceremonies of this kind, we strongly advise that people wear them voluntarily. This applies to all people present, staff and attendees, unless exempt. Any premises holding the ceremony may require staff and customers to wear face coverings as a reasonable measure identified by their risk assessment.

The Church in Wales has produced guidance and a template for risk assessment for weddings and funerals, which can be adapted for use by other denominations.

Pastoral visiting

It is permissible to arrange pastoral visiting indoors, including in private homes. Those visiting should continue to take all reasonable steps to keep themselves and those they are visiting safe, and when the weather is favourable should still consider visiting outdoors.

Welsh Government has published detailed guidance on visiting care homes  (updated on December 17 2021) and visiting hospitals. The guidance regarding hospitals has not been updated since June 18. As some Health Boards are reintroducing restrictions on hospital visiting, the hospital concerned should be contacted to enquire about their current arrangements.

Community use of places of worship and community centres

Community centres (and therefore also places of worship being used for community activities) can open for any activity, subject to a risk assessment and taking reasonable measures to limit the spread of coronavirus – see above. A maximum of 30 people is permitted in activities indoors and 500 outdoors (apart from religious services). Children under 11, carers of those attending and those who are working or volunteering at the occasion (such as leaders and stewards) can be additional to these numbers.

Welsh Government guidance on community centres can be found here. It has not been updated since July 6 2021, but the information in it will be useful in drawing up a risk assessment and deciding on reasonable measures.
Welsh Government action cards for events and hospitality will be relevant to some community activities, and will provide a useful starting point in drawing up a risk assessment.

The Church in Wales has produced guidance and a template for risk assessment for church halls, which can be adapted for similar situations in other denominations.

Specific regulations for retailers (including charity shops and shops in church attractions)

In addition to the general regulations, there are specific regulations for retailers in Clause 16ZB of the regulations:

the measures to be taken by the responsible person under Step 4 of that regulation must include (but are not limited to)—
(a) measures for controlling entry to the premises and limiting the number of customers who are on the premises at any one time;
(b) provision of hand sanitisation products or hand washing facilities for use by customers when they enter and exit the premises;
(c) measures to sanitise any baskets, trolleys or similar containers provided for use by customers on the premises;
(d) in order to remind customers to maintain a distance of 2 metres between each other and to wear a face covering—
(i) displaying signs and other visual aids;
(ii) making announcements on a regular basis.

Further details can be found in Welsh Government’s action card for retail premises.

Cafes and refreshments

Guidance on implementing the regulations when providing hospitality in cafes (including church cafes) can be found in the Welsh Government’s action card and Hospitality UK guidance.

Clause 16ZA of the regulations places additional requirements on locations licensed for the sale of alcohol or which allow customers to consume their own alcohol on the premises, as follows:

the measures to be taken by the responsible person under Step 4 of that regulation must include (but are not limited to)—
(a) having a person controlling entry to the premises, …;
(b) requiring customers to be seated in the premises in any place other than at a bar—
(i) when ordering food or drink;
(ii) when being served with food or drink, and
(iii) when consuming food or drink.
(2) But where food is provided at the premises on a buffet basis, customers may select food from the buffet and return to where they are seated.

Welsh Government’s action card for places of worship notes that sharing of food or refreshments after or as part of a service is a specific risk. However, the Level 2 regulations and guidance are not entirely clear regarding the informal serving refreshments in places of worship and community centres. Following discussion with officials from Welsh Government during the previous period of Level 2 restrictions, the following guidance was agreed:

  1. Where a community centre or place of worship has formal café facilities, then these can be opened following the applicable regulations and guidance. This guidance must be followed in full even when food and drink is served free of charge or for a donation, for example following a service. Informal mixing is not permitted. A full risk assessment must be completed before providing food and drink.
  2. Where a centre or place of worship holds a current Food Hygiene Certificate, and a full general risk assessment has therefore been carried out (perhaps pre-Covid) and the location is known to the authorities, then food and drink may be served (for payment, for a donation or free of charge) if the centre can be arranged and operated as a café – table service only; restricting to 6 the number at each table unless they are members of the same household; ensuring 2m between each household at all times; wearing face coverings when not sat at table; keeping records for Test Trace Protect; and so on, in line with the guidance for cafés. A full risk assessment must be undertaken before doing so.  
  3. Where no Food Hygiene Certificate is held, or where it is not possible to set out the centre in café format or follow the guidance, then food and drink should not be served at the present time. If those attending an activity in the centre wish to eat or drink, they should bring their own food and drink, which should not be shared between households.

It is suggested that for now churches make their arrangements for catering in line with the approach outlined above.

Other guidance

There is further guidance that will be useful for some places of worship:

Churches which are part of a denomination, especially where the denomination is the trustee of the local building, should seek the advice of their denomination regarding any specific denominational requirements. It should be noted that the guidance issued by a number of cross-border churches is based on the Regulations applicable in England rather than those applicable in Wales. This is a matter for the individual denomination, and where there is any conflict between denominational advice and the Welsh Regulations, this should be raised within the relevant denomination.

Many of those who are responsible for places of worship are concerned about their liability for conforming to the regulations, especially when they are changing regularly. It may be helpful, therefore, to read Welsh Government’s guidance for enforcement officers (Level 0 – not updated for Level 2), to see what they will be looking for and how they will proceed in order to ensure compliance.

Some FAQs

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions. We will add to this section on a regular basis.

When will further relaxation be possible?

Welsh Government has announced the following relaxations to regulations, subject to the public health situation permitting:

From 21 January

  • there will no longer be any legal limits on the number of people that can meet outdoors
  • COVID Pass needed for large outdoor events

From 28 January

  • nightclubs will be able to re-open
  • COVID Pass needed for large indoor events, nightclubs, cinemas, theatres and concert halls
  • working from home remains important but moves from law to guidance
  • in hospitality, no restrictions on meeting people and no requirement for table service or 2 metre physical distancing

Individuals who are anxious about attending

There is no requirement on anyone to attend a place of worship for any purpose, and it is important to ensure pastoral care of anyone who is anxious regarding this.

Welsh Government advice to those who are extremely clinically vulnerable was updated on December 23.

Welsh Government has produced a suite of easily read materials for the public offering general advice on keeping safe.

Welsh Government has created badges and lanyards for individuals to wear in order to remind others to keep their distance.

Covid tests

Anyone may order lateral flow tests for Covid 19. Guidance and further information can be found here. Current Welsh Government guidance is If you are over the age of 11 you are encouraged to take tests twice a week (every 3 or 4 days) if you do not have COVID-19 symptoms. 

You are also encouraged to take a test:

  • if you are going to be in higher risk situations including spending time in crowded or enclosed spaces
  • before you visit people who are at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19
  • you are travelling to other areas of Wales or the UK

In its announcement on December 10 2021, Welsh Government issued strengthened guidance, viz:
We will be strongly advising people to:

  • Take a lateral flow test before going out, visiting friends or family or travelling. If the test is positive people should stay at home, self-isolate and arrange a PCR test.

Our guidance for the COVID Pass has been amended to advise that a lateral flow test should be taken within 24 hours, rather than 48 hours as previously set out.

Baptism

The requirement at Level 2 to keep a 2m distance between each group of 6 or each household means that careful consideration must be given how to arrange baptism by immersion or infant baptism, and it may be wiser to postpone for the time being. Where it is decided to proceed, this must be subject to a detailed risk assessment – bearing in mind the risks to those involved in the baptism, and to a congregation which may include people who are not familiar with the church’s arrangements.

When baptising an infant, and depending on the denominational tradition involved, it would be appropriate for one of the parents to hold the baby, and an officiant may administer the water using a liturgical vessel or a common vessel (such as a cup or a large spoon) from arm’s length, and this may be more dignified and practical than splashing water from a distance. A practice using a doll could be arranged to ensure that the method chosen is appropriate. The Church in Wales has produced guidance and a template for risk assessment for (infant) baptisms, which can be adapted for use in other denominations.

When baptising by immersion, hygiene and distancing requirements will mean that only members of one household may be baptised on any single occasion, and the time when people are in close contact with one another must be minimised. Both pastoral and legal considerations mean that baptism by immersion cannot proceed if anyone involved in the rite is anxious about doing so.

Communion services

A specific risk assessment should be prepared for the administration of communion. This is especially important if it is intended to use a shared loaf or a common cup.

A number of commercial suppliers provide individual packs containing a wafer and a plastic cup of wine. If appropriate within the church’s tradition, these can be blessed and distributed, or they may be placed in the pews prior to the service or be left for collection by worshippers as they arrive. If worshippers are asked to bring their own elements, a supply of these packs may be kept in reserve for worshippers who forget or are visiting. Some churches will be reluctant to use these packs due to the volume of non-reusable plastic which they contain.

The Church in Wales has produced guidance and a template for risk assessment for communion. Church traditions who administer communion in different ways would need to adapt this risk assessment before use.

Confirmation, ordination and the laying on of hands

A specific risk assessment should be drawn up when laying on of hands is part of worship. The sanitising of the hands of those who are laying on hands is essential, and the time when people are in close contact with one another must be minimised. There should be advance consultation with those whom it is intended to touch regarding what is acceptable to them, and it may be that postponement would be sensible at the current time.

Church governance meetings

It is a legal requirement to work (including voluntary work) from home where reasonably practicable. Churches should therefore seek to arrange governance meetings remotely or postpone them. Where this is not reasonably practicable, then up to 30 people may meet, subject to a risk assessment, in a place of worship or community centre or even in a private dwelling such as the minister’s residence. If it is decided to meet in a private dwelling, there must be sufficient room to ensure distancing, and safety measures similar to those employed in a place of worship or community centre must be in place. Where some members of the meeting are elderly and/or in poor health, this should be taken into account in the risk assessment.

Worshipping in premises not owned by the faith community

It is the ‘person’ responsible for the premises who is required to ensure conformity with the regulations and arranging a risk assessment. It is, therefore, necessary to discuss with that ‘person’ how worship may be arranged.

Support schemes provided by Welsh Government and others

The following Welsh Government funding is available, and may support community activities carried out by faith groups. On the whole, it will not provide support for religious activity.

The Third Sector Resilience Fund provides funding for third sector organisations under two strands; survive and thrive. The fund prioritises organisations that support people or communities with protected characteristics, including faith/belief groups. Following extensive conversations between Cytûn and Welsh Government, on January 17 Welsh Government provided the statement below. Note that there is only a fortnight before the closing date for expressions of interest (although there will be some more time to complete the full application). Because of the lack of time, Cytûn would recommend that consideration be given to submitting applications for groups of places of worship (such as a Circuit, Diocese or denomination, for example).

We are varying the eligibility requirements for Third Sector Resilience Fund (TSRF) phase 3 with immediate effect, relaxing in part the need for beneficiaries to be incorporated bodies. We recognise that certain organisations are specifically precluded from incorporating in their own right, something that is of particular relevance to certain faith communities. Therefore if a body is established by Royal Charter or similar decree at a national level, we will accept applications from related local faith groups, even though they themselves will never be an incorporated body.
They will though understandably need to meet all the other criteria of the fund, which for religious bodies means that funding can only be used to support ‘outreach’ type activities and not for what might be termed ‘worship’. Applicants will have to be able to demonstrate how existing costs split between these strands. Full details of the fund are on WCVA’s website https://wcva.cymru/funding/social-investment-cymru/third-sector-resilience-fund-for-wales/
TSRF is open to new Expressions of Interest until the end of January. If anybody has any queries or wants some guidance then the first step is to email WCVA on sic@wcva.cymru
On a wider front, there are ongoing discussions with the Grants Centre of Excellence on how we can extend this approach to other funding in the future. We’ll keep in touch on this as things develop.

There are a large number of other grant programmes offered by organisations outside of the Welsh Government which will provide funding for projects led by faith groups. This includes Welsh Churches Act funds operated by local authorities (refer to your local authority website)  and programmes run by the National Lottery Community Fund, the Community Foundation Wales and a variety of trusts and foundations. Information on these sources of funding and many more can be found on the Funding Wales website.

The Business Wales website includes comprehensive information about other support schemes which are available and about an expanded apprenticeship scheme to assist those who are out of work due to the pandemic.

WCVA has collated a detailed list of sources of funding available to third sector organisations, many of which are open to applications from churches and faith groups.

It is also worth any faith group making contact with their local county voluntary council for support in identifying local and national funding sources. You can find information on your local county voluntary council at Third Sector Support Wales.

Gethin Rhys
17.01.2022