COVID-19 Update #18

Restrictions in NSW from 27 August – an update

NSW Health has issued an Exemption under the current Public Health Order (No 4) for Places of Worship dated 27 August (appended):

  1. To allow up to 150 persons to attend a wedding at a place of worship (previously 100) subject to the 4 square metre rule; and
  2. To allow separate services and church activities to occur in separate buildings at a Place of Worship subject to the 100 person/4 square metre rule (150 for weddings).  

(Please note that this exemption does not allow for separate rooms in the same building being used under this exemption – it relates only to separate buildings.)

Please refer to https://www.nsw.gov.au/covid-19/industry-guidelines/places-of-worship for more information, but in summary it states:

Multiple places of worship

If a place of worship has more than one building on the premises, each building can have up to 100 persons (or 150 persons for a wedding) provided there is enough space to ensure one person per 4 square metres, and:

  • each building has its own separate ingress/egress to the outdoors
  • staff and volunteers are designated to work in only one building
  • reasonable steps are taken to ensure staff, volunteers and congregants of each building do not interact with each other
  • services have staggered start and finish times
  • each building has its own COVID-19 Safety Plan and registers this through nsw.gov.au.

This exemption primarily applies to churches that conduct completely separate church services across different buildings.  It does not assume that the Minister or other staff would move from service to service across buildings, or that the two groups would mix before or after the service.

In other words, so long as the people in each of the buildings are kept from mingling or mixing with each other at any time (including the requirement that services are to have different start and finish times) then up to 100 may be included in each building.

Updating your Safety Plan

The current Safety Plan from the NSW Health website dated 24 July 2020 remains unchanged.  Although you may need to update the plan in the future as restrictions and advice changes, if you have registered as a COVID Safe church online you do not need to register again.

There are no changes to other previous Updates or NSW Health advices, but for ease of referral, we outline some of the key points:

  • All churches, irrespective of whether they have opened for religious services or not, should have developed and registered a Safety Plan with NSW Health. 
  • You do not need to lodge a physical copy of the Safety Plan with NSW Health or with Church Offices.  You only need to retain it for inspection by an authorised officer of the NSW Government or a police officer as requested.
  • Please ensure that all external groups using church premises have registered their Safety Plan with NSW Health, and retain copies for inspection.
  • Churches with multiple sites will need to prepare and register a Safety Plan for each site. 
  • Singing in groups (whether by choirs or by congregants) must not take place at this time, irrespective of whether singers are wearing masks.  The only COVID-Safe singing that is permitted in public worship services is a solo singer distanced at least five (5) metres away from other people and not directly above the audience.  We do not believe this restriction extends to:
    • musicians involved in livestreaming or recording of church services where no public is present; or
    • the congregation stating the creeds or reading aloud during the service, subject to congregants maintaining minimum social distancing of 1.5m.
  • NSW Health is encouraging congregants to wear a mask during public worship services.  However, while highly recommended, especially in areas where there has been community transmission, wearing a mask is not mandatory.
  • Reduce mingling wherever possible and promote physical distancing. Where reasonably practical, ensure congregational members and church staff always maintain 1.5 metres physical distancing.  Note that family members do not need to physically distance.
  • If morning tea or supper is provided, ensure that food is individually packaged for each person and use only paper cups.  Distribute food hygienically, maintaining physical distancing.
  • Display conditions of entry (website, social media, venue entry).
  • Ensure all visitors to the church or worship service record their name and a mobile number or email address, with this record is stored confidentially and securely for a period of 28 days.  For households, one contact is sufficient to support contact tracing.  Ensure records are used only for the purposes of tracing COVID-19 infections and not used for any other purpose.
  • Please provide sanitizer as all members and visitors enter the church premises.
  • Please ask and exclude church staff, members and visitors who are unwell from the premises.
  • Please discourage vulnerable people and church volunteers (particularly those over 70 years of age) from serving or cleaning, with younger members of the congregation encouraged to help wherever possible.
  • Provide staff with information and training on COVID-19, including when to get tested, physical distancing and cleaning.

Hygiene and cleaning

  • Adopt good hand hygiene practices.  Ensure bathrooms are well stocked with hand soap and paper towels or hand dryers.
  • Modify the serving of communion to avoid direct contact where practical.  Where this is not practical, ensure hands are washed before and after each interaction with soap and water or hand sanitiser.
  • Avoid sharing books, drinking cups or other shared objects used during the service such as collection plates.
  • Clean frequently used indoor hard surface areas (including children’s play areas) at least daily with detergent/disinfectant.  Clean frequently touched areas and surfaces several times per day.
  • Disinfectant solutions need to be maintained at an appropriate strength and used in accordance with the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Staff are to wear gloves when cleaning and wash hands thoroughly before and after with soap and water.

Hand sanitiser safety and children

Alcohol-based hand sanitiser is dangerous if ingested, particularly for children.  Safety tips for carers: 

  • store hand sanitiser products safely and out of reach of children.
  • any use by young children should be under the supervision of an adult.
  • be aware of imported products which may not be clearly labelled and may contain more toxic alcohols such as methanol that make the product more dangerous.
  • washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is a safe and effective option.
  • if you suspect the child has ingested hand sanitiser, regardless of the quantity, call the 24 hour Poisons Information Centre on 13 11 26 for first aid and monitoring advice.  Have the container of the ingested product with you.

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,
Andrew Campell, NSW Moderator, PCNSW
Jeoffrey R Falls, General Manager, Chief Executive Officer