On the 18 January, I wrote to Scotland’s diverse faith and belief communities following the introduction of Covid-19 public health restrictions on 8 January to provide reassurance that places of worship would be among the first sectors to be considered as we moved towards easing of restrictions.
From the 26 March communal worship will be able to take place in places of worship in level 4 areas albeit with a restricted capacity of 50 people in total, and subject to physical distancing and other safety measures as reflected in our guidance for the safe use of places of worship.
I know that the impact of the virus has been particularly challenging for faith and belief communities and that you have not been able to come together for worship or to celebrate major religious holidays and observances as you normally would since last March. However, our hope is that the easing of restrictions on Friday will enable a level of communal and individual worship to resume. This will allow some of our communities to return to collectively mark Passover, Easter, Ramadan and Vaisakhi.
The Covid situation is still serious and we must continue to minimise the spread of the virus. I am pleased that the vaccination programme combined with other measures is already having a significant impact on reducing the number of deaths, and is giving us more confidence in setting possible dates for the next steps as we move carefully out of lockdown.
The delivery of the vaccination programme is guided by the JCVI advice and continues to make very good progress. Our officials and faith and belief groups continue to work together to encourage people to come forward for vaccination when invited to do so. I urge anyone who is hesitant about receiving the vaccine on religious grounds to contact their clerical and administrative leaders for answers to and reassurance about any questions they might have.
I want to assure you that the remaining public health measures are necessary and will not be in place a moment longer than is required. The data will inform when further easing can happen. Throughout this time, we will continue to have regular engagement with our faith and belief communities to understand their concerns and to discuss the issues affecting the safe use of places of worship as we proceed through the coming period.
As you may know the Scottish elections will be taking place in May, and I announced last year that I will not be seeking re-election. It has been my privilege as Cabinet Secretary for Communities and Local Government to hold the Ministerial responsibility for Scotland’s faith communities.
During the time I have been in post I have seen some of the tremendous work Scotland’s faith and belief groups carry out in our communities and beyond – work motivated to make a positive difference.
Faith and belief groups play such an important role in helping some of the most vulnerable in our society and often opening their doors and their hearts to those most in need. So I want to reaffirm to you the importance we as a government attach to our relationships with you all and our deep sense of value and appreciation for all you do.
Scotland will be entering the pre-election period on the 25 March, so I want to take this opportunity on behalf of the Scottish Government, to thank our faith and belief communities for all the incredible spiritual and material support you have provided to the people of Scotland over the past twelve months, and to send our very best wishes for your upcoming holidays and observances in the months to come.
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