Churches want to ease coronavirus restrictions and hold public services

Interior of Koeru church.
Interior of Koeru church. Source: Olev Kenk

The head of the Estonian Council of Churches (Eesti Kirikute Nõukogu) Archbishop Emeritus Andres Põder has called for a lifting on emergency restrictions on churches in Estonia from Friday, May 1, with the exception of Tallinn and on Saaremaa, where this could be delayed to May 15, he proposed.

The government has already started lifting some of the restrictions which emerged after the emergency situation was first imposed on March 12, with open-air sports facilities to be open to the public (though still maintaining the 2+2 rule) from Friday, a limited number of travel permits to Saaremaa and the other major Estonian islands being made available to non-residents, and the possible lifting of the ban on public events from July all on the table.

Churches and other buildings of worship closed for public services fairly early on in the crisis, with services being conducted online and broadcast on the radio.

Archbishop Põder says that thanks to the joint efforts of God, the government, the coronavirus crisis committee, the Health Board and other organizations, and ultimately the entire country, the rate of the virus' spread is slowing up.

As a result Põder and leaders of churches represented by the council have submitted a proposal to allow the restoration of services for congregations from May 1, except in Tallinn and Kuressaare (Saaremaa's capital), which could start from May 15.

This proposal would be contingent on the following measures, for the duration of the emergency situation:

Disinfectants near the entrances and exits of a church or meeting room must be guaranteed, as well as notification of the availability of disinfectants elsewhere in the church. 

The 2+2 rule (maximum two people gathering, families excepted, minimum two meters' distance from others) should be maintained by clergy and other church staff as well as congregations.

The above means a minimum 4 square meters per person must be maintained inside the church, meaning the maximum number of people the building could accommodate should be on display at the entrance, and the figure not exceeded.

When administering the eucharist and other sacraments and ordinances, the clergy members must use personal protective equipment, observe hygiene rules and avoid physical contact.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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