Publication - FOI/EIR release

COVID-19 restrictions in places of worship: FOI release

Information request and response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002

Published:
22 Sep 2021
COVID-19 restrictions in places of worship: FOI release
FOI reference: FOI/202100227542
Date received: 1 Aug 2021
Date responded: 27 Sep 2021
Information requested

1. What date it was agreed by our Governing Officials that 'singing' should be banned.
2. Which key department body agreed when singing should be permitted again in 'places of worship'.
3. Which places of worship were affected i.e. all faiths, sporting events and any other.

Response

1. In terms of your request, and taking account of the references to places of worship, I have provided responses, based on the information available, in respect of information around singing in places of
worship.

On 23rd March 2020, it was announced by the First Minister that, in response to the Coronavirus pandemic, measures would be put in place to close business and other premises. Legislation was enacted on 26th March 2020 to provide for such closures.

The Legislation is contained in the following:

The Health Protection (Coronavirus) (Restrictions) (Scotland) Regulations 2020 (legislation.gov.uk)

Places of worship were closed from 26th March 2020, and therefore singing would not have been able to take place, from that date. A specific decision by The Scottish Government in relation to banning of singing did not take place. 

2. Decisions on what sectors and activities to re-open on our route out of lockdown have been guided by the principles set out in our Framework for Decision Making.

This can be found on the Scottish Government website at:

https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-framework-decision-making/

In it we set out the direct and indirect harms of the pandemic, which we consider in our ‘Four Harms’ approach:

  • The virus causes direct and tragic harm to people’s health
  • The virus has a wider impact on our health and social care services, and our wider health and wellbeing
  • The measures necessary to protect us from the virus can in turn cause harm to our broader way of living and society
  • Protective measures have a damaging effect on our prosperity

Restrictions on individuals, organisations and businesses impact on the economy, society and on the exercise of fundamental rights. It is therefore necessary for decision-making and judgment on restrictions to take into account both the direct harm of the pandemic in terms of morbidity and mortality and the broader impact or ‘harm’ caused by restrictions.

Information on the strategic plan for recovery can also be found at:

Coronavirus (COVID-19): Strategic Framework update - February 2021 - gov.scot(www.gov.scot)

Proposals are technically assessed using the best available evidence and analysis of their potential benefits and harms to health, the economy, and broader society to minimise overall harm and ensure transmission of the virus continues to be suppressed. This assessment process includes oversight of the assessed health risks in different settings by the Chief Medical Officer and input from the other Chief Clinicians as appropriate. Having taken all relevant advice, decisions are taken by Scottish Ministers, and not Government Officials or departments.

The Scottish Government has published documents and minutes relating to the Covid-19 advisory groups which may be of interest:

https://www.gov.scot/colleions/coronavirus-covid-19-advisorygroups/.

Evidence considered by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), as well as minutes from meetings of the group are published regularly on the UK Government website:

https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/scientific-advisory-group-for-emergencies

In relation to when singing was permitted again in Places of Worship, it may be helpful if I provided information on when singing was permitted at various stages of the Coronavirus pandemic.

From 19th June 2020, places of worship were permitted to open for individual prayer and/or contemplation, but not congregational worship. At that time singing was not permitted.

From 15th July 2020, congregational worship was permitted, but not singing. Where it was essential to an act of worship, an individual could sing or chant from behind a plexiglass screen.

From 17th May 2021, singing, chanting and playing musical instruments was permitted in small groups (i.e. non-professional choirs and bands) in Level 0-2 areas. Individual singing was permitted for places of worship in Level 0-2 areas. For areas in Levels 3-4, an individual could sing from behind a plexiglass screen.

From 31st May 2021, congregational singing could take place for areas in Level 0-1.

From 19th July 2021, all areas of Scotland moved to Level 0, and singing in Places of Worship was permitted in small groups, and for congregational singing.

3. With reference to the response given to Question 1, all places of worship were closed on 26th March 2020, with limited exceptions for specific uses, as detailed in the Legislation. As such, all places of worship were affected. As part of the Strategic Framework for tackling Coronavirus, Scotland was placed into a number of local protection levels, which provided guidance on what activities could and could not be undertaken. Details on the levels and how they affected Places of Worship, Stadia and Events, and Sports are contained in the Strategic Framework document as follows:

Coronavirus (COVID-19): Scotland's Strategic Framework - gov.scot (webarchive.org.uk)

About FOI

The Scottish Government is committed to publishing all information released in response to Freedom of Information requests. View all FOI responses at http://www.gov.scot/foi-responses.

Contact

Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Email: ceu@gov.scot
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrews House
Regent Road
Edinburgh
EH1 3DG