In an attempt to make Christmas feel as normal as possible, the Government has released guidance for England, allowing members of ‘Christmas bubbles’ to attend Mass together for a short period of time at the end of December.
The Guidance for the Christmas Period, published on Sunday 29th November, also gives the green light to outdoor carol services, as well as door-to-door carolling.
The guidance states that people can attend places of worship in all tiers from 2nd December, with restrictions on who they can meet whilst there dependent on the tier their area is in.
However, ‘Between 23rd and 27th December, you may also attend a place of worship with members of your Christmas bubble. This applies in all tiers,’ the guidance states.
People will be allowed to form Christmas bubbles between 23rd and 27th December, composed of people from no more than three households. An individual can only be in one Christmas bubble and cannot change it once they are in one. They can only meet their Christmas bubble in private homes or in their garden, places of worship or public outdoor spaces.
Regarding singing, the Government reminds people that ‘Covid-19 spreads from person to person through small droplets, aerosols and through direct contact. Singing, shouting and physical activity increases the risk of transmission through small droplets and aerosols.
‘If singing does take place, steps should be taken to reduce the risk of transmission, including limiting the number of people participating as far as possible. The cumulative effect of aerosol transmission means the more people involved, the higher the risk of transmission.’
It states that carol singing or carol services can take place if all attendees follow advice in the suggested principles of safer singing, published on 20th November, and guidance for the Performing Arts developed by an expert group co-ordinated by Public Health England. It states that this applies to both professional and amateur choirs.
Those performing or rehearsing in a professional capacity or as part of a supervised activity for under 18s are not limited in number and do not have to adhere to gathering limits but should still follow the performing arts guidance.
For adult amateur performances and rehearsals, the Government advises that organisations, including churches, ‘should consider the case for proceeding (or not), given the wider health context in your area and the context of your participants, particularly if vulnerable individuals are involved’.
Those that do proceed, should follow performing arts guidance and will be subject to local gathering limits. This means that if more than one group of six (in tier 1) or household (in tier 2 or 3) is performing or rehearsing indoors, they must not interact, ‘mingle’ or otherwise socialise together. Social distancing between groups or households must also be maintained at all times, including when entering or leaving the building or in any breaks.
Direction can continue to take place during the activity, such as between a conductor and a group, but other physical and social interaction is prohibited.
Professional and amateur choirs may perform in any indoor venue permitted to open but congregations should not participate in any activity that can create aerosols, including singing, shouting and chanting.
The maximum number of people present should take into account the area of the space and the requirement to maintain 2m social distancing at all times.
Particular attention should also be paid to how participants can arrive and leave the site safely while maintaining social distancing.
Attendees should walk or cycle to the event and avoid public transport or sharing a car with anyone outside their household in line with safer travel advice.
Professional and amateur choirs may perform outdoors in any venue permitted to open and congregations may join in with singing at these performances but should follow social distancing of 2m and event organisers should ensure this is maintained.
Outdoor attendees should also remain seated where possible and the maximum number of people present should take into account the area of the outdoor space and the requirement to maintain 2m social distancing at all times. Particular attention should also be paid to how participants can arrive and leave the site safely while maintaining social distancing.
Door-to-door carol singing can take place in groups of no more than six participants. If there are more than six people in total, each ‘group’ must not interact, ‘mingle’ or otherwise socialise. Carollers should adhere to public health advice, including to ensure that they maintain at least 2m distance from anyone they do not live with and the threshold of anyone’s front door.
They should also walk or cycle, avoiding public transport or sharing a car with anyone outside their household.
The guidance states that school performances by pupils, such as Nativity plays, should take place within existing school bubbles and avoid mixing across groups.
Whether audience members, including parents, are permitted to attend festive performances will depend on the tier in their area.
In tiers 1 and 2, audiences are permitted to attend, subject to the appropriate safeguards being in place.
In tier 3, audiences are not permitted. The Government suggests that in these areas, schools can use alternative methods such as live-streaming and recording performance.
The Government also states that schools planning a performance should consult the guidance on music, dance and drama, published on 26th November, and the performing arts guidance.
Supervised activity for children is exempt from limits on gatherings in every tier, meaning that children’s choirs and other out-of-school settings can continue. Providers who run community and other out-of-school activities for children should follow the protective measures guidance for holiday or after-school clubs and other out-of-school settings.
The Government recognises the ‘crucial role’ volunteers play in supporting people over the Christmas period, noting that this can continue in all tiers.
Where possible, people should volunteer from home but if this is not possible, they can volunteer outside their home.
Volunteers should follow advice on how to help safely, published on 4th November, and must follow social distancing guidance.
To read the Guidance for the Christmas Period in full, see:https://www.gov.uk/guidance/guidance-for-the-christmas-period
Picture: Catholics attend Mass in Westminster Cathedral. (Mazur/cbcew.org.uk).