Western Morning News (Saturday)

Should church services still be allowed?

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LOCKDOWN heavy or lockdown light? Your guess is as good as mine as we face the start of another period of confinemen­t.

While schools are now closed and most office workers encouraged to do so from home, the stringent rules applied to the first lockdown last year are missing and the buzz of traffic on the roads proves that not many people are actually “staying at home”.

That period when it felt like the world had been put on pause and the planet had a brief time to heal itself is missing this time.

In many ways that is a pity as now, more than ever, we should be questionin­g the need to mix and risk catching a virus.

The new mutated strain is far more easily spread and the UK daily death toll has once again hit four figures. That figure alone is terrifying but the media reports of the brutal effect on NHS workers looking after patients on Covid wards is the stuff of nightmares.

However, there is sense in remov

The Rt Rev Mark Rylands outside St Andrew’s Church, Ashburton, in June last year

ing some of the more draconian features of the first lockdown. Allowing single households to continue to form a “bubble” will be a lifeline for many elderly and vulnerable people.

Allowing practition­ers such as physiother­apists, hearing specialist­s and dentists to continue their clinics will also prevent many people being subjected to unnecessar­y pain and discomfort.

But while the police are threatenin­g to get tougher with lockdown breakers, I question how seriously people will take the rules when there are so many other exceptions.

The ability to offer takeaway food may be a financial lifeline for some restaurant­s. But how can popping out to pick up a takeaway be classed as an essential journey? And while people will welcome the chance to enjoy public parks and gardens for their daily exercise, how many people will be able to do so without making a car journey?

That leaves us in the ludicrous situation when the restrictio­ns on travelling to exercise were lifted last summer and beauty spots and nature reserves were flooded with visitors who, in normal times, might be shopping in town or at the cinema.

Controvers­ially, I’m also not convinced that allowing churches to continue to hold services is a great idea.

Places of worship seem to me to be just as likely, if not more likely, to risk spreading the virus as the “nonessenti­al” shops and gyms which have been forced to close.

Of course, there are those who believe that any lockdown measures are an infringeme­nt of their human rights and should be blatantly ignored.

Perhaps the critics of our government’s approach to handling the pandemic should consider how measures have been handled in other countries. While the virus rages out of control in wild west USA, New Zealand’s total lockdown is now hailed as the only way for an island nation to handle a pandemic.

France is currently under a curfew as it struggles to contain cases, and smoking has been all but banned in any public place in cigarette-loving Spain.

How would these measures be received here in laissez-faire UK?

Hopefully the prospect of the lockdown lasting until March, if case figures don’t ease, will prompt people to take it seriously.

I’m lucky that I can work from home and enjoy exercising in the beautiful Cornish countrysid­e near my home. But I have the same fears and anxieties for my family, friends and the many vulnerable people who will be so deeply affected by a long-term confinemen­t.

There is no doubt that national lockdown is the best way to control the virus but it needs to be short and sharp, not drawn out and ineffectiv­e.

‘I’m not convinced that allowing churches to continue to hold services is a great idea’

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