Coronavirus social distancing guidance applies to religious gatherings, says Matt Hancock

Health secretary Matt Hancock has said that the social distancing measures apply to places of worship(Photo: Parliament.Live)

UK health secretary Matt Hancock has confirmed that the Government's new social distancing guidelines apply to places of worship. 

The Government rolled out updated guidance on Monday telling people to "avoid large gatherings, and gatherings in smaller public spaces such as pubs, cinemas, restaurants, theatres, bars, clubs". 

It also advises that people avoid gatherings with friends and family, and instead keep in touch by phone or internet.

Robin Millar, Conservative MP for Aberconwy, asked the Secretary of State if he would "offer some guidance to the large number of religious communities—churches, mosques, gurdwaras—on what actually constitutes a large gathering of people?"

In reply, Mr Hancock said it was with "the heaviest of heart" that religious communities are included in the guidance. 

"We address that in the advice, and this is a very important point. We have taken advice on how to respond to the crisis, including from our ethics committee, which includes representatives of the major religious faiths," he told the Commons.

"It is true that we include religious groups in our advice about social contact. We have seen from elsewhere in the world how sometimes it is through religious gatherings that the virus can spread so, with the deepest regret and the heaviest of heart, we include faith groups and gatherings of faith within the advice."

Until now, Churches have advised those who have underlying health conditions or symptoms to stay at home and not attend services. 

The Church of England and Methodist Church have said they are reviewing their own guidelines to churches in light of the new guidance from the Government.