Tuesday 4 August, 2020

Churches get ease, Gov't changes its stance on new COVID-19 protocols

(FILE) Minister of Labour and Social Partnership Relations, Colin Jordan

(FILE) Minister of Labour and Social Partnership Relations, Colin Jordan

Churches and faith-based organisations will adhere to new public health protocols as Government shifts its stance on banning communion. 

Following consultations with church leaders and heads of various denominations, Minister of Labour and Social Partnership Relations, Colin Jordan announced an immediate adjustment of protocols from this weekend.

Addressing journalists at the Lloyd Erskine Sandiford Centres (LESC) on June 5, Jordan declared that communion, which was previously banned according to Government's public health emergency order, will be permitted once there is no contact between the officiate or pastor and worshippers. 

He revealed that church officials have offered several alternatives to the Ministry of Health which would promote social distancing and prevent the spread of COVID-19. Some of the suggestions included, pre-packaged communion sets, applying the host - which is the bread or wafer -  to the palm without touching persons and not using a single the communion cup. They also advocate for the sharing of bread using serving tongs and maintaining the virtual communion services where individuals take communion from their homes under the guidance of an officiate as they were doing before the reopening.

The Minister of Labour also disclosed that ministers, singers, or those delivering praise can remove their masks but when the mask is removed an increased distance of 12 feet must be maintained. He stated if there were separation screens, there would be no need to increase the distance. 

As per the previous directive, air conditioners were not allowed but according to Jordan, church leaders have indicated they would leave the windows open to allow ventilation while the air conditioner is on. 

The taking of temperatures remains mandatory. However, the Government has suspended recording the temperature of every person entering the church or place of worship.  The church is also required to list its attendees, Jordan said, adding that the method by which it was done was up to church leaders. He emphasised that the recording of entrants was necessary for contact tracing if a positive case came to light. 

"The purpose of recording is for contact tracing in the case of a supposed contracting the virus COVID-19 and the place of worship is a place the person would have been before the 14 days before the contracting of the virus. 

"This is not a matter of surveillance. The Ministry of Health and Wellness does not want to know who goes to the congregation unless there is a case that they are investigating. Other than that, there is no need for that information to be shared," he explained. 

The Minister also sought to clarify the misunderstanding that persons 70 and over were not allowed to attend service.

"The misunderstanding came because we specifically identified that places of worship are free to have special services if they wanted persons only 70 years or older to attend to keep them away from the larger congregation. . . . So for clarity, persons 70 years or older can attend any service and adhere to the protocols like anybody else," Jordan said also added that streaming services are still permitted. 

The Minister also indicated that only contactless hand dryers and paper towels can be used in the bathroom. He stressed that hand dryers that must be touched cannot be used. 

Additionally, Jordan recommended that worshippers use personal bibles and hymn books instead of books, programmes or pamphlets belonging to the church.

"The reason why we are clarifying to say take your own from home is because of the whole sanitizing process. . . . so we are asking for persons who may attend places of worship where the hymns or program is not placed on a screen, to take your devices or books with you from home so there is no need for sanitizing and there is also not the possibility of having to share those books with others with the possible spreading fo the virus," he reasoned. 

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