Places of worship are permitted to open for acts of worship. However, numbers attending must be determined by a risk assessment.
For other activities that take part in church buildings, the current regulations allow up to six people from a maximum of two households to meet in non-domestic indoor settings, for a permitted reason.
Face coverings must be worn inside the building and when entering and exiting.
This does not apply to the person leading worship or to a couple who are at a ceremony to solemnise their marriage or to form their civil partnership.
Face covering exemptions also apply.
The regulations are available on the Department of Health website:
Many places of worship are also workplaces and should therefore be aware of their responsibilities as employers under health and safety law.
Places of worship also have a duty of care to volunteers, to make sure that, as far as reasonably practicable, they are not exposed to risks to their health and safety.
You should take steps to minimise the risk of COVID-19 spreading.
You should consider the specific circumstances of the place of worship including its size, how it is organised, operated and managed.
Anyone showing any of symptoms of COVID-19 (a new continuous cough, a fever/ high temperature, or a loss, or change in, their normal sense of taste and smell) must not attend their place of worship under any circumstances due to the risk that they pose to others.
They must self-isolate at home immediately with other members of their household and get tested.
Anyone who has been advised to self-isolate by the contact tracing service or the StopCOVID NI app, and anyone who is self-isolating in line with travel regulations, must stay at home and must not attend their place of worship for the full recommended period of self-isolation (regardless of whether or not they have symptoms).
For funerals, it is strongly recommend that anyone who is self-isolating attends remotely, to reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread to other mourners.
However, if after careful consideration of the risk, they choose to attend in person, they may do so as long as they do not have any symptoms of COVID-19, even if mild.
If they are self-isolating and choose to attend a funeral, they must:
- inform the funeral director that you are self-isolating
- keep a strict two metre social distance at all times
- wear a face covering
- use they own transport to the funeral
- return immediately to the place they are self-isolating
They are not permitted to leave self-isolation to attend any other act of worship.
On entering and leaving a place of worship, everyone, including staff, should wash or sanitise their hands.
There should be signs and posters to encourage hand hygiene as well as hand sanitiser in multiple locations.
Social distancing and appropriate protective measures are of vital importance to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19.
Worshippers should stay at least two metres apart and should not have close contact with anyone outside of their household or support bubble.
Families who live together in one household can stay together without social distancing.
There should only be a closer distance when absolutely essential to enable a faith practice to be carried out (for example communion).
Time spent in close contact should be kept to an absolute minimum.
Suggested actions for venue managers to take to support social distancing:
- mark frequently used areas with floor tape or paint to help people maintain a two metre distance
- consider how you will manage queues so that the flow of groups in and out of the premises can be carefully controlled in a socially distanced way, reducing the risk of congestion or contact
- introduce a one-way system with appropriate floor markings and signage
- at the end of worship, encourage worshippers to leave one row at a time
- stagger arrival and departure times
- introduce a booking system to help with managing numbers, particularly for services where demand will be high
The above advice on social distancing also applies when travelling to and from a place of worship.
Organisations do not have to keep detailed records of attendance for contact tracing purposes.
However, these details would help contact tracing if there was an outbreak within a place of worship.
Places of worship should consider keeping a temporary record of visitors for 21 days but should seek consent from the visitor beforehand and ensure compliance with UK General Data Protection Regulations.
As COVID-19 spreads less easily in a well ventilated environment, it is advisable to keep windows and doors open to improve air flow where possible.
Further guidance on ventilation can be found at:
COVID-19 can survive up to 72 hours on hard surfaces.
Contact with shared surfaces that are frequently touched can increase the risk of infection.
Rooms used for worship and shared spaces, such as doorways, should therefore be cleaned regularly and following every service.
Surfaces such as door handles, tables, seats, handrails and toilets should be cleaned regularly with household detergent.
Sufficient time needs to be allowed for this cleaning to take place.
After all necessary cleaning has taken place there should be a minimum 15 minute interval before the next service being held.
It is important that the space is well ventilated at all times, by leaving doors and windows open.
Toilets should be carefully managed with increased frequency of cleaning. Pay close attention to frequently touched surfaces. Make sure there is suitable handwashing facilities with running water, liquid soap and suitable options for drying.
Activities and rituals
Singing, playing musical instruments and chanted prayer are an important part of many religious services but can increase dispersal of the virus through aerosols and droplets. This is especially the case at loud volumes.
Refraining from singing and chanting will reduce the risk of spreading the virus.
Where singing or chanting is deemed to be essential to an act of worship, this should be limited to one person wherever possible.
Communal singing should be avoided if possible, even if social distancing is being observed and face coverings are used.
Whilst singing and chanting is discouraged, if they do occur, make sure it is done as safely as possible by making sure that:
- singing takes place only in larger well-ventilated spaces, or outdoors
- performance or rehearsal is for limited periods of time at a reduced level of loudness, using microphones for amplification if available
- limited numbers of people sing together
- singers are spaced at least two metres apart in all directions (at least one metre apart if the additional measures or controls recommended in government COVID-19 guidance for the performing arts are applied)
The communion sacrament should not be shared from a common cup or chalice.
There are no special measures or precautions recommended for the cleaning or disposal of individual cups beyond standard cleaning and disposal practices.
The person distributing the consumable should release it into the worshipper’s hand only, in such a way to avoid any contact between them and those receiving it.
Speaking, singing and chanting should not happen across uncovered consumables.
To minimise risk, there should be no sharing of the Peace through physical contact, and no shaking of hands.
Any washing/ ablution rituals should not be done at the place of worship but carried out before arrival.
In rare circumstances where it is necessary, washing facilities within the place of worship should be used in line with social distancing guidelines and hygiene measures applied.
People should not wash the body parts of others. Where an infant is involved, a member of the infant’s household should hold the infant.
Where full immersion in water is necessary as part of a ritual, this should be very carefully planned.
Those being immersed should be at least two metres away from the congregation and officiant at all times, except while they are being immersed.
Only one person should be immersed at any time and they should only be attended by a single officiant.
During the immersion, the officiant can place their hands on the head of the person being immersed, but they should not ‘cradle’ the person. The officiant should wash their hands after each person is immersed.
Faith leaders should consider adapting and reducing the length of religious services if they would otherwise have taken place over a number of hours or days, to ensure the safety of those present and minimise the spread of infection.
Individuals should be prevented from touching or kissing objects that are handled communally.
Individuals should also avoid touching property belonging to others.
Worshippers should be encouraged to bring their own bibles, hymn sheets, prayer books or prayer mats, and remove these at the end of the service.
Venues should refrain from providing reusable resources and single use alternative can be offered instead if the worshipper has not brought their own.
The worshipper must remove and dispose of this at the end of the service.
In circumstances where worshippers cannot bring their own resources, places of worship should keep a selection of clean items for individuals to use.
These should then be quarantined for 72 hours and cleaned.
Protecting the vulnerable
There should be a particular focus on protecting people who are clinically vulnerable and more likely to develop severe illness, including people who are aged 70 or over, regardless of medical conditions.
Definitions can be found at:
If you fall within this group, you are advised to keep social contacts low and maintain social distancing from those you do not live with.
Venue managers should considering advertising set days or times when places of worship are open solely for those particularly vulnerable to COVID-19.