Australia

NSW relaxes religious, wedding and funeral caps in latest easing of coronavirus restrictions

An empty church due to COVID-19 is seen during a mass on the eve of Anzac Day at St Mary's Cathedral in Sydney, Friday, April 24, 2020. Source: AAP

NSW has recorded two new COVID-19 cases as authorities warn church leaders about the infection risks from communal singing after easing attendance restrictions.

NSW will ease coronavirus restrictions on religious services, weddings and funerals from Monday, when measures to increase pub and restaurant patronage come into effect.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian announced on Friday that from 1 June, up to 20 people can attend weddings, 50 at funerals and 50 at places of worship.

However strict social distancing guidelines would continue to apply.

"It is crucial that worshippers remember to follow health advice. This is particularly important for people with co-morbidities aged over 50 and people aged over 70," Ms Berejiklian said.

Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
AAP

The government had been wary about adjusting the restrictions on places of worship after observing COVID-19 outbreaks in churches and church choirs overseas.

But state religious leaders pushed for the relaxation after the government last week announced up to 50 people would be allowed to dine in restaurants, pubs and cafes from 1 June.

NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant outlined the risks requiring management.

"Places of worship will be asked to find alternatives to practices that might spread the virus, like singing, sharing books and even passing around the collection plate," Dr Chant said on Friday.

"Communal singing and chanting should not occur because of the high risk of transmission."

Anthony Fisher, the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, on Friday said in a statement the Catholic church would abide by all government health regulations.

"The closure of our churches and indeed of all places of worship has been deeply distressing for many people of faith in our community," Archbishop Fisher said.

The archbishop of the Anglican Archdiocese of Sydney says Anglican churches are well prepared to return to services with a maximum of 50 people.

Hand sanitisers will be available at each entrance, churches will be thoroughly cleaned between services and designated ushers will record the contact details of each attendee.

"We realise that this is not the normality we enjoyed in 2019 ... We are grateful for the relief, joy and comfort that many parishioners will feel in meeting again in public Christian worship," Archbishop Glenn Davies said in a statement on Friday.

It comes as NSW on Friday recorded two new COVID-19 cases from more than 9900 tests, both of whom were returned overseas travellers in Sydney hotel quarantine.

The total number of coronavirus cases in NSW is 3,092 with one person in intensive care.

People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others and gatherings are limited to two people unless you are with your family or household.

If you believe you may have contracted the virus, call your doctor (don’t visit) or contact the national Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. If you are struggling to breathe or experiencing a medical emergency, call 000.

SBS is committed to informing Australia’s diverse communities about the latest COVID-19 developments. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus.

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