Catholic leader calls on government to keep churches open amid Covid surge

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Archbishop Vincent Nichols with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh  (PA)
Archbishop Vincent Nichols with the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh (PA)

The Archbishop of Westminster and leader of Catholics in England and Wales has urged Boris Johnson’s government not to reintroduce restrictions on churches amid record Covid infection rates.

Data published on Thursday, suggesting the Omicron strain might cause less severe illness than the Delta variant, has fuelled speculation that the prime minister will resist imposing further curbs after Christmas.

Cardinal Vincent Nichols said it was clear that large spaces such as churches were “not places where we spread the virus”.

Most people are sensible and cautious. We don't need stronger impositions to teach us what to do

Vincent Nichols

“I would sincerely appeal that they do not again consider closing churches and places of worship,” the archbishop told the BBC prior to midnight mass at Westminster Cathedral.

“I think this country has shown that people can make good judgements themselves,” he added.

“We’re at that point of saying we understand the risk. We know what we should do. Most people are sensible and cautious. We don’t need stronger impositions to teach us what to do.”

It comes after a further 122,186 lab-confirmed Covid-19 cases were recorded in the UK as of 9am on Christmas Eve, another record daily figure, while 137 people died within 28 days of testing positive.

In Scotland, nightclubs will close for at least three weeks from Monday as part of a package of measures to control the spread of the virus, while clubs in Wales and Northern Ireland will close from tomorrow.

But in England, the government may choose to issue new voluntary guidance on limiting contacts rather than risk another damaging Tory rebellion by recalling parliament to impose new rules.

Mr Johnson has indicated he will not hesitate to act after Christmas if required. Monday is expected to be the first opportunity for ministers to consider whether changes are needed beyond the existing Plan B measures.

Any new restrictions could be in place until late March under measures examined by the government’s scientific advisers.

The latest modelling considered a package of measures including a ban on socialising with another household indoors and a return to the rule of six outdoors, in line with the Step 2 restrictions in place in England earlier in the year.

A consensus paper published on Friday by the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling, Operational sub-group of Warwick University experts said, “rapidly enacted Step 2 measures reduce the peak of hospital pressure to about half its level under Plan B only”, but the paper has not yet been seen by ministers.

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