A new Public Health Order will apply from the beginning of Monday 29 March 2021 to churches in NSW: the Public Health (COVID-19 Gathering Restrictions) Order 2021. One of the biggest changes is that there will no longer be restrictions on singing in services (hooray!) There was actually a temporary exemption in place over the weekend of 27-28 March to allow this to happen a bit early. But this new CGR Order will now operate on a long-term basis. In this post I will just summarise the provisions affecting churches, and where they can be found in the new Order.
There are no radical changes made under the CGR Order, though some provisions have been renumbered. The provisions applying to places of public worship (ie church buildings) and church services held elsewhere are as follows:
- The “definitions” section has now been moved to the end of the Order, in Schedule 4; as far as I can tell, most of the key definitions are unchanged.
- Under cl 10, read with Schedule 1, occupiers of “places of public worship” are required to develop and comply with a COVID-19 Safety Plan in accordance with the plan prescribed for “places of public worship”. As of the time I am writing this on the evening of Sunday March 28, the current public worship Safety Plan has not yet been updated to remove the rules around singing with face-masks. But given that the preamble to the new Order at point (c) makes it clear that one of the Minister’s intentions is “removing restrictions on indoor singing, including at places of public worship”, I am sure the Plan will be updated by tomorrow (and if it is not, the official Order would over-ride the Plan).
- Under cl 11, a general maximum number of persons in non-residential premises is retained to be the figure of 1 person per 2 square metres (2sqm rule). This will still impose some limits on numbers for many churches, but hopefully can be eased soon if we continue to have very low incidence of COVID-19 in the State.
- Clause 13 deals with “significant events”, defined mostly to be weddings, funerals, and events immediately after those things. These are subject to their own “significant events” Safety Plan. It will be worth double-checking the new Plan for these when it becomes available. At the moment these events are limited by the 2sqm rules, but in Greater Sydney there is a cap of 300. However, we know that the government’s plan is “removing restrictions on dancing at weddings” (from the preamble to the new CGR Order) so that at least will be changed.
- Clause 22 makes it clear that the rules governing places of public worship also apply where church services are held in other buildings (eg a rented community centre or school hall).
- Clause 25 requires contact details of attendees to be collected, but cl 25(3) provides that for church services this can be either through the “Service NSW” app or by some other “direct” method organised by the local church. If the NSW app is not used, cl 26 provides that records must be securely kept for 4 weeks, and able to be handed over the government within 4 hours if required for contact tracing.