Don't sing in church, not even for a livestream says NSW

New South Wales guidance says churches should not have any singing, even for a livestream from an otherwise empty building according to an official email to church leaders.

Below is the full text of the email sent on Wednesday to religious leaders. Eternity understands that some churches have expressed disappointment at the restrictions, especially from Pentecostal and Catholic streams.

Professor Neil Foster who runs the Law and Religion Australia blog tells Eternity “I disagree with their interpretation of cl 14 of the latest PHO [Public Health Order], because it allows ‘performers’ and I see a couple of people playing and singing, either in a live stream or up front at a church service in regional NSW, can be classified as ‘performers’. Foster gives his reasoning in his full blog post.

“What about a few people singing for the live stream? I think this is permitted under a rule that applies across the State, cl 14:

14 Direction of Minister about singing on non-residential premises

(1) The Minister directs that the occupier of non-residential premises must ensure that persons in an indoor area of the premises do not sing.
(2) Subclause (1) does not apply if—(a) the persons singing are performers engaged in a performance or rehearsing for a performance,
It seems to me pretty clear that people performing for a live stream are “performers” and would be allowed to do under this provision. Indeed, this rule applies in the rest of NSW where church services are still permitted, and so while congregation members may not sing, this would seem to allow a couple of musicians on a stage up front to perform music for the congregation.”

The email

Subject: Religious Communities Forum, 28 June 2021 – advice from NSW Health

Dear Religious Communities Forum members,

Thank you to everyone who attended our forum on Monday afternoon with the Minister for Multiculturalism and NSW Health, and for helping to keep NSW safe at this critical time.

Below we have collated questions raised at the forum with advice provided by NSW Health:

Singing in places of worship

Following questions from our forum yesterday, please be advised that under the current Public Health Order (PHO), NSW Health has now confirmed that singing is not permitted in indoor areas of places of public worship. This includes during a live stream, and in regional NSW. This rule will protect people who may be involved in assisting in livestreaming an event, for example technical assistance, or who may be in regional communities attending a service. Previously there has been transmission via singing in a place of worship, which is of concern, particularly with this more transmissible COVID-19 variant.

Do religious service leaders need to wear a mask while livestreaming?
Yes. The requirement is to wear a face mask in all indoor areas of non-residential premises. This rule applies across the whole of NSW.  A service leader may temporarily take off their mask to deliver a speech for accessibility reasons. For example to ensure viewers who may lip read are able to understand the service leader. As soon as they have finished their speech, the service leader should put their face mask back on.

Is there a limit to the number of people involved in livestreaming a religious service?

In Greater Sydney the absolute minimum number of people should be present at the live stream in the place of worship.

Why can’t places of worship remain open for a private visit and prayer as long as there are no scheduled public services?

Places of worship are considered a high risk setting due to the nature of activities that take place within this space, such as singing, chanting and congregating for long periods of time. Even when people attend for private prayer, they are potentially in the same room as others for an extended period of time.

Do we think that these restrictions will go for longer than two weeks?

NSW Health is continuously assessing and monitoring the situation to ensure the NSW community is kept informed. The most up-to-date information about case locations, rules and COVID safe measures can be found on NSW Government website (nsw.gov.au):

·        Current COVID-19 case locations

·        What you can do in regional and rural NSW

·        Additional restrictions for Greater Sydney

Can we still visit and deliver spiritual solace to nursing home or aged facilities?

Yes. You can leave home for a compassionate reason to provide pastoral care if you are a priest, minister of religion or member of a religious order. You must wear a face mask in indoor settings, practice physical distancing and adhere to COVID-19 safe behaviours at all times.

How many people are allowed to attend a memorial service in Greater Sydney and regional NSW?

The greater of one person per four square metres or up to 100 people, including the person conducting the service, can attend a memorial service or funeral in Greater Sydney. Face masks must be worn in indoor areas. Certain exceptions apply.

Outside of Greater Sydney, the one person per four square metre rule has been re-introduced for all indoor and outdoor settings, including weddings, funerals and memorial services. Funerals and memorial services must be limited to a maximum of 100 people if any attendees are from Greater Sydney. Face masks must be worn in indoor areas. Certain exceptions apply.

What differences apply in regional areas, outside Greater Sydney?

On Saturday 26 June the Public Health (COVID-19 Temporary Movement and Gathering Restrictions) Order 2021 came into effect. Under the new Order, stay at home rules are in place for the Greater Sydney area which includes the Blue Mountains, Central Coast, Wollongong and Shellharbour.

In Greater Sydney – Stay at Home Orders

Persons affected by the stay at home orders cannot leave their place of residence without a reasonable excuse. The reasonable excuses mirror those in earlier restrictions and include:

  • obtaining food, traveling to attend essential work or education (where it is not possible to do at home)
  • exercising outdoors in groups of no more than 10
  • medical and caring reasons – including obtaining a COVID-19 vaccination
  • family and carer obligations and compassionate reasons (including pastoral care if you are a priest, minister of religion or member of a religious order), including where two people are in a relationship but do not necessarily live together

Regional and rural areas
The following restrictions are currently in place in  regional and rural areas across NSW:

Visitors to households are limited to 5 guests – including children
Face masks are mandatory in all indoor non-residential settings, including workplaces, and at organised outdoor events
Drinking while standing at indoor venues is not allowed
Singing by audiences at indoor shows or by congregants at indoor places of worship is not allowed
Dancing is not allowed at indoor hospitality venues or nightclubs
Dancing is not allowed at weddings, but only for the wedding party (no more than 20 people)
Dance and gym classes are limited to 20 per class (masks must be worn)
The one person per four square metre rule will be re-introduced for all indoor and outdoor settings, including weddings and funerals
Outdoor seated events will be limited to 50% seated capacity;
The Order is in place until midnight 9 July, unless extended or repealed earlier.

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