LEICESTER, United Kingdom – Scotland’s bishops have sent their proposed infection control standards for reopening of parishes to the Scottish government.

The United Kingdom went into lockdown on March 23 to stop the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, and all churches were closed to the public as part of the measures.

Although the four constituent nations of the UK – England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland – have been coordinating their lockdown efforts, each national government is responsible for its own lockdown measures.

Sir Harry Burns, Professor of Global Public Health at the University of Strathclyde and Scotland’s former chief medical officer, chaired the bishops’ committee for developing the standards.

“A great deal of work has been done to provide guidance and support to clergy as they prepare for the phased reopening of our parishes,” said Bishop Hugh Gilbert, President of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland.

“The guidelines have been prepared to reflect advice given in the Scottish Government’s Route Map on the gradual removal of restrictions,” he added, noting the bishops are continuing to engage with the government.

Scotland’s route map includes five phases – under current guidelines, churches would be able to open in July at the earliest. However, churches in Northern Ireland were opened for private prayer in the middle of May, prompting bishops in the rest of the United Kingdom to be more vocal on the issue.

The bishops in England and Wales have this week have said churches in the country are fully prepared to be opened for private prayer.

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Gilbert said the Scottish bishops hope to be able to issue infection control and liturgical guidelines to the laity next week so they can be prepared when the churches reopen.

“They will highlight the fact that the obligation to attend Sunday Mass remains dispensed until further notice and everyone is asked to consider carefully whether or not they should return in the early phases,” he said. “We are mindful of our duty of care to elderly clergy and lay people, which together with social distancing reductions in capacity will mean that the availability of Mass may reduce in some areas.”

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