Publication - Advice and guidance

Coronavirus (COVID-19): safe use of places of worship

Guidance to help places of worship safely re-open for permitted purposes.

18 Sep 2020
Coronavirus (COVID-19): safe use of places of worship

From 9 August, all of Scotland moved beyond Level 0 restrictions when most of the legally imposed restrictions were lifted. This replaces the previous Guidance for the Safe Use of Places of Worship which no longer applies from that date. Some protective measures remain in law, such as the use of face coverings in indoor public places, subject to exemptions. The remaining restrictions and exemptions are set out in the Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Requirements) (Scotland) Regulations 2021/277 (“the Regulations”).

We will have to manage COVID-19 for some time to come and it will be important that places of worship continue to take measures to mitigate the risks of transmission. The Coronavirus (COVID-19): staying safe and protecting others - Guidance contains information on a range of precautionary measures including hygiene, ventilation and face coverings as well as links to sectoral guidance. We advise religious and belief bodies to continue to consider adapting their rites, rituals and traditions in light of the remaining precautionary measures and in addition consider the advice set out below on good practice. Links are provided to the most relevant guidance for places of worship.

Considerations for good practice

While the vaccination has significantly weakened the link between new cases and serious health harms, it has not been completely broken. It is therefore important that places of worship continue their good practice and step up their efforts to reduce the spread of the virus. This means taking all possible proactive steps to promote and reinforce the baseline measures, promote advisory precautionary measures and specific good practice for places of worship.

We strongly advise those responsible for a place of worship to consider carrying out a risk assessment to help decide which actions to take to ensure the safe management of a place of worship. For example, places of worship may wish to continue to collect visitor details for the purposes of supporting NHS Scotland’s Test and Protect system. The law no longer mandates physical distancing, however we continue to advise the public that – especially indoors – it is advisable to keep a reasonable distance from people from other households. Therefore, places of worship may wish to continue the practice of physical distancing as an additional protective measure for their congregations.

Face coverings continue to be an important part of stopping the spread of coronavirus. Under the Regulations everyone in a place of worship is required to wear a face covering, unless an exemption applies.

Faith-specific practices

In addition to the general principles we advise that:

General risks

  • services or ceremonies that would traditionally take place over a period of hours or days are adapted to reduce the time spent gathered together and therefore reduce the risk of transmission. 

Hygiene and communal resources

  • good respiratory hygiene (“Catch it, kill it, bin it”) is required at all times
  • individuals are prevented from touching or kissing devotional and other objects that are handled communally, or from placing their face or head in the same location as other worshippers. Use barriers and signs where necessary.
  • individuals avoid touching property belonging to others such as shoes which, if taken off, should be handled only by their owner.
  • where communal resources such as books, prayer mats and services sheets are required to be used as part of worship, you should follow good hygiene principles (careful hand washing/cleansing with soap and warm water/alcohol-based hand sanitiser before and after handling books or similar objects/items of equipment and avoiding touching the face with unwashed hands).
  • any personal items brought in to aid worship are removed by the user
  • cash giving is discouraged, with online giving used instead. Where cash offerings continue, any receptacle should be set in one place and not handled communally. Any person who has handled money should wash their hands thoroughly afterwards and avoid touching their face.

Singing, projection of voices

  • the use of a microphone and sound system can mitigate the need for the projection of voices where appropriate. Any microphone used should not be handled communally.
  • face coverings should be worn when involved in congregational singing, chanting and the playing of instruments. There is an exemption for performers and those leading an act of worship, subject to physical distancing or use of a partition or screen. Full details can we found in the guidance on the use of face coverings.  We advise that a risk assessment is carried out to consider any mitigating measures that may be put in place.

Food and drink as part of worship

  • where the consumption of food and drink is part of the act of worship, the use of communal vessels is avoided. 
  • other mitigations for the preparation and handling of food which is part of the act of worship are taken, including strict hand hygiene, pre-wrapping food items and avoiding the sharing of cutlery, crockery or utensils. Face coverings must be worn while preparing and handling food unless an exemption applies. 

Cleansing, ablutions and use of water

  • pre-requisite washing and ablution rituals can be carried out at places of worship if they can be done safely. Otherwise we advise that they are carried out at home. Where such facilities are used hygiene measures should be observed at all times and areas should be cleaned regularly. Individuals should not wash the body parts of others.
  • where rituals or ceremonies require water to be applied to the body, where possible full immersion is avoided and only small volumes are splashed onto the body. Where an infant is involved a parent/guardian should hold the infant. Strict hand hygiene should be maintained throughout.
  • during full immersion in water, where possible, the person being immersed should self-immerse;
  • during the immersion, clergy/the officiant may place their hands on the head of the person being immersed, but they should consider the need to touch them in any other way.
  • during the immersion, the person being immersed should remove their face covering, however any officiant/clergy attending them should wear a face covering unless an exemption applies;
  • if any contained body of non-chlorinated water is used in full immersion, such as a baptismal font, the water should be drained and the font cleaned, after each immersion;
  • where a swimming pool is used, please consider the latest Swimming Scotland guidelines. Immersion may also take place in a safe external space of open water.

Useful Links to Relevant Regulations and Guidance

First published: 18 Sep 2020 Last updated: 27 Aug 2021 -