This week in the light of the government’s decision to reintroduce a lockdown across the country from 4 January and the highly alarming increase in COVID-19 case numbers that we are seeing both in Ealing and across the capital, I have spoken with and written to faith leaders about what more we can all do to stop the spread of the virus and save lives.
Hospitals under pressure
For the week ending 3 January, Ealing has 972.2 COVID-19 cases per 100,000. This compares to around 200 cases per 100,000 shortly before Christmas. The average across London is now in excess of 1,000 cases.
Our hospitals in Ealing and London are under strain at a level not seen before in this pandemic and there are serious concerns that London could soon be in a position where there is no spare capacity for intensive care beds. This rapidly deteriorating situation is a result of the new variant of COVID-19 which has been spreading in the UK in recent months, which is estimated to be between 50 and 70% more transmissible than the original strain.
Places of worship asked to voluntarily close
Given this very worrying situation and the urgent need to reduce infection rates and protect the NHS, I am urging all places of worship to voluntarily agree to go beyond the legal restrictions imposed by the government. Acts of communal worship remain legal, but I am asking that Ealing’s places of worship make the voluntary step to go further and close for communal worship and individual prayer.
I know that many places of worship have already decided to cease collective worship and I very much welcome this. Boroughs across east and north-east London, where the spread is currently worst, have already made agreements with many faith groups to undertake voluntary closures, and I know that our neighbours in north-west London are making similar appeals.
Livestreaming services from places of worship has been very much welcomed by many residents during the lockdown and I am keen that this continues, providing the number of celebrants physically present in the place of worship is kept to an absolute minimum and strict safety procedures are adhered to.
I know also that many of our places of worship have played key roles in providing services that support residents during this very difficult time, such as running food banks or kitchens. This is hugely appreciated, and I would encourage places of worship to remain open for those purposes, again with strict distancing and hygiene procedures.
As a person of faith myself, asking places of worship to close is the last thing I want to do. I know that every faith group in our diverse borough has played an invaluable role in providing comfort, companionship, support and solace during these terrible months. It is only because the situation in which we find ourselves is so potentially disastrous that I am making this appeal today.
Vaccination under way
The vaccination programme is under way in the borough and the recent approval of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine will allow the number and pace of vaccinations to rapidly increase. The NHS hopes to have vaccinated all of the most vulnerable groups in the borough by the middle of February. This is the light at the end of the tunnel, but sadly we must go through another very trying period before we reach it.
Thank you for all faith groups who have and will respond positively to this request – and thank you again for everything you are doing for our borough’s residents during this crisis. We must all do everything we can to get residents to ’stay at home, protect our NHS and save lives.’