LEICESTER, United Kingdom — The Bishops’ Conference of Scotland said the government’s decision to not allow public worship until July 23 at the earliest is “both disappointing and perplexing.”

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told the Scottish Parliament on Wednesday that a relaxing of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown measures would include reopening pubs and restaurants – along with cinemas, museums, libraries, and hairdressers – on July 15.

However, she said could not give an “indicative date” for the return of communal worship, adding that any changes to this policy “are unlikely to take effect before July 23.”

The United Kingdom went into lockdown on March 23 to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, closing all places of worship to the public. Northern Ireland will allow public worship beginning June 29, and England will allow public worship on July 4.

Churches in Scotland were opened for private prayer on June 22, a week after churches in England.

“The Scottish Government’s decision not to allow places of worship to open for communal worship until July 23 at the earliest, while allowing pubs, restaurants and cinemas to reopen on July 15 is both disappointing and perplexing,” the Scottish bishops said in a July 26 statement.

“The Catholic Church has responded positively to government requests from the very beginning of lockdown and submitted detailed protocols for infection control and staged reopening to the Scottish Government over three weeks ago, without any objection from the government,” the statement continues.

“The church has continued to engage with government and the reopening of churches for personal prayer since Monday (June 22) has allowed time to assess the procedures in place to assure public safety. With these considerations in mind, further delays to communal worship appear unjustified. The Bishops’ Conference will convey these views to the Scottish Government as a matter of urgency,” the bishops said.

The United Kingdom has been the hardest hit country in Europe during the pandemic, with 43,414 deaths attributed to the virus.

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