COVID-19 Update #15

Dear all,

Easing of restrictions in NSW from 1 July 2020

As indicated in our last Update, we are pleased to confirm that the NSW Government has removed the 50 limit on places of worship in NSW.

The new rules regarding public gatherings in the State have been amended with effect from 1 July 2020, in the Public Health (COVID-19 Restrictions on Gathering and Movement) Order (No 4) 2020 (“PHO No 4”).

Gatherings (including religious services)

From today, churches must comply with the “sufficient space for one person per 4 square metres” rule (the “4sqm rule”).  This removes the artificial limit of 50 persons under the previous form of the PHO.

Exceptions to the rule apply to:

  1. residential premises: where the previous rule of “maximum of 20 visitors” still applies under cl 11(1) – subject to exceptions for those “at work” (which would include pastoral staff) and those engaged in childcare.
  2. funerals and memorial services receive special treatment under cl 9 – even if the 4sqm rule would mean that church buildings could not take 50, they are allowed to have up to 50 persons.

However, there is now a new rule about how to calculate the number of persons allowed in clause 4:

  1. In calculating both the space available for each person on any premises and the number of persons on the premises, the following persons are not to be included in any calculations— (a) any person engaged in work on the premises…
  2. In calculating the space available for each person on any premises the following areas are to be included in the calculations— (a) if the size of the premises is not more than 200 square metres of floor space, the entire premises; (b) if the size of the premises is more than 200 square metres of floor space, only those areas that are open to the public.

Presumably (as a rough and ready example), if a church is 160 sqm, they may have up to 40 persons; but if a church is, say, 600 sqm, they will have to exclude from their calculations store-rooms or office space not accessible by the public (say, 40 sqm) so they will only be able to have 560/4= 140 persons, not the 150 they would have had if they could count the whole floor space.

  • Churches that have opened or plan to open must now:
  • Complete and have available for congregational members or external users a COVID-19 safety plan, which can also be downloaded from:
    https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/industry-guidelines/places-of-worship.
  • Maintain a record of the name and mobile number or email address of all people using the church or church premises for any reason for a period of at least 28 days.

As outlined in previous Updates:

  • The limits apply per service or gathering on the premises rather than to the ‘place of public worship’ as a whole.  This means that you can have multiple services or gatherings up to the relevant limits simultaneously on your church site, provided those services or gatherings stay separate and separate records are kept for each.
  • Morning tea and supper after church services is now allowed, subject to the above restrictions.  We encourage congregations to take care in serving food and drink, including using paper cups and packaged food for the time being.  Please ensure that you prepare a safety plan, which will include considering how best to gather after the service

Funerals

As outlined above, there is no upper limit on the number of persons attending a funeral, other than that limited by allowing one person per 4 square metres.

However, the rules have been amended for funerals to allow up to 50 people in a church that is less than 200 square metres.

People attending the service are required to supply their name and contact details so that they can be used for contact tracing.

Weddings

There is now no upper limit on the number of persons attending a wedding, other than that limited by allowing one person per 4 square metres.

People attending are required to provide their name and contact details so that they can be used for contact tracing.

Use of church premises for purposes other than services and by other groups

There are no longer restrictions that prevent a place of public worship (including the church hall or other rooms or facilities on the premises) being open to the public for other purposes.  This will be welcomed by many of our churches.

However, any class or group using the church hall or premises:

  1. must not have more than the total number of persons calculated by applying the 4sqm rule; and 
  2. must have a COVID-19 safety plan in place appropriate for the relevant activity and available to the church or the public.  Depending on the activity, please find a template COVID-19 safety plan at: https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/covid-safe-businesses

Meetings

While the NSW Government’s advice is to use telephone or video for essential meetings where practical, meetings of Session, Committee of Management and Congregational meetings are now permissible, subject to the 4sqm rule and maintaining appropriate records for contact purposes.

Singing

You will see that the NSW Health Checklist for the COVID-19 safety plan says: “Avoid group singing … and wind instruments (such as flute, oboe or clarinet). Solo singers should maintain at least 3 metres physical distance from other people.”  We have heard some congregations are humming to songs and/or quietly contemplating the words of the songs during singing time.

Cleaning

We continue to receive many questions about the frequency and type of cleaning to be undertaken following meetings and church services.  These questions are outlined in the safety plan, and guidelines can be found at: https://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/doc/how-clean-and-disinfect-your-workplace-covid-19

The NSW government requires continued practicing of physical distancing and good handwashing hygiene, including providing hand sanitiser at the entrance to all rooms; avoiding sharing books, drinking cups or other shared objects used during the service such as collection plates; and cleaning frequently used indoor hard surface areas (including children’s play areas) at least daily with detergent or disinfectant.

If church members or guests present even the mildest symptoms, they unfortunately need to be asked not to attend.

Visits to households, including for bible study

Gatherings in homes with up to 20 visitors (in addition to the usual occupants of the premises) are permitted.  As private residences are not places of worship, there is no 4sqm rule applicable to gatherings in homes and there is no requirement to prepare a COVID-19 Safety Plan for gatherings in homes.

Gatherings in homes are the responsibility of the householder and they should not be advertised as church events.  Should a householder invite visitors to their home for bible study or to watch services, we encourage people to practice 1.5m social distancing and good hygiene at all times.

We trust you will find these guidelines helpful as you prepare to return to worship in your Church.  Please do not hesitate to email Jeof Falls on jfalls@pcnsw.org.au or Peter Merrick on pmerrick@pcnsw.org.au should you have any questions.

Grace and peace,
Rev Richard Keith, NSW Moderator
Jeoffrey R Falls, General Manager, Chief Executive Officer