Calls for churches to close as Covid numbers soar

The Mayor of London wants the Prime Minister to order places of worship to close.(Photo: Unsplash/Hoyoung Choi)

London Mayor Sadiq Khan has written to Boris Johnson asking for the immediate closure of places of worship amid soaring coronavirus cases in the capital. 

Places of worship have been permitted to remain open during England's third national lockdown, but in his letter, Khan asked that they be ordered to close. 

Some churches have already made the decision to suspend in-person services because of spiralling coronavirus numbers.  

Khan's call coincides with a letter sent to faith leaders by four north-east London council leaders asking that they suspend in-person gatherings.

The letter was sent this week by Darren Rodwell of Barking & Dagenham Council, Newham mayor Rokhsana Fiaz, Redbridge's Jas Athwal, Waltham Forest's Clare Coghill, and Hackney's Philip Granville.

They said the area was facing a "critical moment" and that places of worship should close except to hold funerals. 

"None of us wants to see places of faith close but these are challenging times," they said in the letter.

The four main denominations in Northern Ireland took a joint decision this week to order the closure of their churches when the province went into lockdown on Friday. 

In Scotland, places of worship were ordered to close by Nicola Sturgeon when the country went into another lockdown earlier this week. 

On Friday, Blackburn and Derby Cathedrals announced they were suspending public worship because of rising infections and the pressure on hospitals. 

"This has been a difficult decision to come to, but in the interests of public health, responsible leadership and a determination to work together to see the suppression of the Covid pandemic, I hope people understand our need to act at this moment in time," said Dean of Blackburn, Peter Howell-Jones.

Dean of Derby, Peter Robinson, said: "To serve the common good, keep people safe and protect our frontline workers, we need to make this temporary and timely sacrifice, so that before too long we can all gather for worship again."

The Diocese of Chelmsford, which covers north-east London, has written to clergy "strongly" advising them to move all services and meetings online, with the exception of funerals. 

"As you are aware we continue to be the worst hit area of the country and our hospitals are now under extraordinary pressure," the letter reads.

"We must do all that we can to protect the most vulnerable in our communities and the NHS."