Thursday March 10, 2021
Current relating to COVID-19
The legal requirement to wear face masks indoors no longer applies to religious gatherings in Victoria. At this time the mask mandate is limited to specified situations including primary schools; on public transport, taxis and rideshare vehicles; planes and indoors at the airport; by people working in or visiting hospitals and indoor areas at care facilities; and by workers in hospitality and retail. Masks are recommended for other workers serving or facing members of the public, such as if you are at reception, meeting guests or serving customers. Some congregations and some members may still opt to wear masks in indoor settings, as a pastoral (rather than legal) precaution.
QR Code check-in is no longer required at churches or community halls unless they are being used as hospitality or entertainment venues. Covid-safe plans are still required. COVID check-in marshals are no longer required.
See the VicTas Frequently Asked Questions document updated March 3.
See the Victorian Government announcement: A Safe and Sensible Return to the Office as Masks Rules Ease
So what does this mean for us as we plan our gatherings in Autumn?
As before, we each have to weigh up the levels of risk we are facing, their likelihood and impact, and our ability to control the risks. We’re still in a period in which infection is moving through the community. While the Omicron variant appears to have milder symptoms, and in many cases no symptoms, a number of people with already vulnerable health could end up in hospital. We also need to consider the impact of being close contacts with people who are infected and being required to self-isolate.
As people in leadership roles, we can encourage people to approach the coming COVID-19 wave responsibly. The government’s COVID-focused website includes a page on staying safe, https://www.coronavirus.vic.gov.au/staying-safe, with facts about COVID19, advice on hygiene and physical distancing, checking in with QR codes, wearing face masks, developing a COVID-safe plan for home, what to do in an emergency, seasonal hay fever and asthma, and COVID vaccines. We are encouraged to stay at home if we feel unwell.
Even though masks are not currently legally required in religious gatherings, it is still the case that masks reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission, especially in indoor settings where people are singing and ventilation is limited. The government still recommends wearing a mask if you can’t physically distance, are indoors in public areas, have any symptoms, or if you are with people who may be vulnerable to COVID-19. Some workplaces and other settings (including congregations) may recommend masks. We’re expected to always carry a mask when leaving home. Face masks are still mandatory in a number of key, high-risk settings.
Proof of full vaccination or medical exemption is no longer legally required for people to attend a religious gathering. This may be due to pressure from churches as they anticipate the number of people from the general public who are likely to consider attending a Christmas-related gathering. People who have had COVID and recovered, but haven’t been vaccinated, will now legally be able to rejoin their congregations. While this relaxation may be a relief for those people who have been responsible for checking vaccination status at the door, some of our members will be more anxious about exposing themselves or their loved ones to further risk. As it turns out, knowing that everyone has had two vaccination shots may lead to a false sense of security, as the Omicron variant is spreading among the fully vaccinated in other parts of the world.
Ventilation more important than surface cleaning
The government has removed requirements for deep cleaning of buildings after known infections. There’s evidence that ventilation is a much more significant factor in the spread of infection. It is recommended that places of worship open windows and outside doors where possible to maximise ventilation. Reduce or eliminate recirculated air and increase the use of outdoor air where possible.