UK: Churches should close, says former WHO director

(Photo: Unsplash/Jonathan Chng)

The former director of WHO has said that all places of worship should close as the UK struggles with a surge in coronavirus cases.

Anthony Costello, also a University College London (UCL) professor of global health and independent SAGE member, told the Mirror that only "a total clampdown" would be enough to bring the virus back under control.

He said: "We are in a national crisis with a pandemic out of control.

"We should have no nurseries open, no synagogues, no churches, no mosques. We should have compulsory masks, two-metre distancing." 

Susan Michie, professor of health psychology at UCL and SAGE adviser, has told BBC Radio Four's Today programme that she thinks the current lockdown is "definitely too lax".

"This is quite a lax lockdown because we've still got a lot of household contact, people go in and out of other people's houses if they're a cleaner, a non-essential trade person or a nanny," she said.

"We also have mass gatherings in terms of religious events and nurseries being open, and you have this wide definition of critical workers so we have 30-50% of classes full up at the moment and very busy public transport going to and from these things.

"It's definitely too lax. If you compare ourselves with March we have the winter season and the virus survives for longer in the cold plus people spend more time indoors and we now know aerosol transmission which happens indoors is a very big source of transmission for this virus.

"Secondly, we have this new variant which is 50-70% more infectious. You put those two things together alongside the NHS being in crisis, we should have a stricter, rather than a less strict lockdown than we had in March."

Churches have been wrestling with whether to close after Boris Johnson said they could stay open during England's third national lockdown. 

Some churches have closed voluntarily because of high Covid numbers. 

Denominations like the Church of England and the Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches have left the decision with individual churches although the Diocese of Chelthenham is "strongly" advising them to close.

The Baptist Union of Great Britain has told its churches to close, while the Catholic Church has welcomed the Government's decision to allow places of worship to remain open. 

In Scotland, churches have been ordered shut, and in Northern Ireland, the four main denominations have taken the decision to close.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG) told Premier Christian News in a statement that there was no change to Government guidance. 

"Faith communities have provided support and solace during these very stressful times, and have worked hard to ensure they have been able to do so safely following the COVID-secure guidance for places of worship," the spokesperson said.

"In line with national guidelines, places of worship can remain open for communal worship and individual prayer, as long as they follow strict social distancing guidelines."