Frequently asked questions on COVID-19 Guidance

Note that these FAQs sometimes refer to “Government” and “Church” advice. The former refers to the UK Government making guidance that applies in England and the latter to the Church of England within England itself. Governmental advice in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland is published by the appropriate devolved administrations and other countries outside the UK (including Isle of Man and Channel Islands) also have different regulations.

Almost all activities have been disrupted and will continue to be disrupted even as lockdown restrictions are relaxed. The Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser as well as many others have reminded everyone of the need to proceed cautiously. We need to see what effect the various relaxations have before taking each step, frustrating though that is.

The fundamental issue to remember is that the Church owns the bells that we ring (with an extremely small number of exceptions) and not us. We therefore need to follow their guidance and their rules. The recommencement of ringing was not a priority for the Church and in the first set of Government guidance on reopening places of worship bellringing was joined together with choir practice as being specifically forbidden. We have worked hard to get ringing back onto the agenda and have been pleased to be able to make the case despite the very real caution that the Church has shown about risk in general. We can make no apology for focusing on ringing for service as the first step.

The final decision on whether the bells of a church may be rung lies with the minister (Canons of the Church of England 7th ed Section F8(2)), so if the Vicar says you may not ring his or her word is final.

The decisions were made on the best advice working with those negotiating with the Government. A gradual phased return is better than nothing.

There are two issues here. First, the social distancing advice has not reduced in the way you say. The current UK Government advice is:

“People should either stay 2m apart or ‘1m plus’ – which is one metre plus mitigations. These mitigations will depend on the workplace or setting. For example, on public transport, people must wear a face covering, as it is not always possible to stay 2m apart.

In other spaces, mitigations could include installing screens, making sure people face away from each other, putting up handwashing facilities, minimising the amount of time you spend with people outside your household or bubble, and being outdoors.” (https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/coronavirus-outbreak-faqs-what-you-can-and-cant-do/coronavirus-outbreak-faqs-what-you-can-and-cant-do-after-4-july Section 3.4)

Second, ringing is an indoor activity. Section 1.5 of the Guidance page linked above says

“You are able to meet indoors in groups of up to two households (anyone in your support bubble counts as one household). This includes inviting people from one household into your home or visiting the home of someone else with members of your own household. You should continue to maintain social distancing with anyone you do not live with or who is not in your support bubble when doing so.

If you are in a support bubble you can continue to see each other without needing to maintain social distancing.

The more people you have interactions with, the more chance the virus has to spread. Therefore, try to limit the number of people you see – especially over short periods of time. The risk of transmission is also higher indoors, so you should take extra care to stay as safe as possible.”

The underpinning scientific rationale comes from a variety of studies, which have looked at the risk of transmitting virus from one person to another. These show that the exposure reduces the further away one is from someone with the infection with the exposure being about 10 times as great at 1m compared with 2m.  The risks are also increased indoors because there isn’t the same natural ventilation from wind and breezes.

At this early stage of restarting ringing, social distancing remains one factor that limits what we can do. We have already got to a point where people from more than two households can ring together whereas they couldn’t go for a drink in the pub together.

Members of the same household (including those in the same support bubble if they are in one) do not need keep socially distanced from each other and can ring bells that are close together. However, each and every one of them needs to remain 2m away from any ringer outside their family group while in the tower. You could therefore have family members on some adjacent bells, then have a gap, etc. There may be towers that have plenty of family members and some bells spaced more than 2m apart may be able to ring all their bells!Where there are ropes that fall in a straight line it is permissible to ring bells that are 1.5m apart so long as (1) the ringers face forward into the circle and (2) the ropes of the bells opposite in the circle are at least 2m away.

Current Government guidance only recognises “support bubbles”. These are where a single person (or a single adult with dependent children) can join with one other household and be treated essentially as one household. However, all of the members of that support bubble can only be a member of that one support bubble. They can’t also mix freely or closely with those from elsewhere.

In the unlikely event that a band consisted of one family living together plus one other person who lived alone then that would be acceptable under the current guidance.

Any future changes to the concept of social bubbles will be reviewed to see what effect it could have for ringing.

No. The risk of catching the infection is directly proportional to the time spent in the presence of someone who is carrying and shedding the virus into the air. There is no specific cut off but the exposure during a 30 minute period is twice that in 15 minutes and so on. In a poorly ventilated space the levels of any virus dispersed into aerosol form will tend to build up with time as well. The guidance used in contact tracing defines a significant contact as being with someone within 2m for more than 15 minutes so this was a sensible cut off point. It is also an amount of ringing time that is viable for a service.

15 minutes is the current limit unfortunately. Some bands are arranging to ring bells up the day before ringing (with the incumbent’s permission) and then have more time actually ringing on the Sunday.

While Perspex may well reduce the risks from people coughing or sneezing at you in some settings they do not in themselves prevent aerosols moving about and might even disrupt what natural airflows there are in ringing rooms. More importantly the risks of ropes catching or the screens moving during ringing are significant. After extensive discussion with Public Health England it has been agreed that Perspex or similar screens should not be used as a mitigation measure in a ringing setting.

We have also considered the use of face visors and do not recommend the use of visors while ringing for similar reasons.

Face coverings became mandatory in the Church of England and Church in Wales anyway on 7th August so they should be worn. This was not part of a reduction in the requirement for social distancing, but increased evidence that face coverings reduce transmission. The addition of face coverings has not changed the 2m rule for bell separation, at least for the time being. 

Yes it does make a difference. There is a lower risk of droplet transmission from two people standing side by side than facing each other. Although the social distance rules we need to adhere to do not currently make a distinction facing into the circle is a form of mitigation so where the ropes fall in a line adjacent bells may be rung where the distance between them is 1.5m.

No. First, there are risks involved as most ringers are unfamiliar with ringing in this way. Second, if the circle is really this small then it implies that the ringing room will also be small and that ventilation will be insufficient.

We are going to need to continue to follow Church of England guidance and Government guidance. That is likely to change as infection levels drop, and at the moment infection levels are rising.

Yes you can. As long as the ringing is permitted by the Incumbent and follows the guidance, it does not have to be for a Sunday service. Remember though if ringing is going to take place the following day as well, e.g. Sunday after a Saturday wedding, you will need to have same ringers again on the same bells because of the ’72 hours between ringing’ restriction.

We cannot yet give different guidance for different ringing chambers. This would lead to too much inconsistent interpretation of the guidance. It may be possible in due course to view well ventilated ground floor rings differently but not at the moment.

You are not alone in feeling like that. Although the Government seems to have lifted many restrictions all at once they have to some extent taken the approach of trying to relax restrictions in some areas to see how things go. Now we are finding restrictions being increased in some locations as restrictions have been lifted too far. We are actually better off than some other activities – church and cathedral choirs aren’t able to sing even in services.

Some of the confusion arises from the way in which new and old advice fits together and how announcements may be made some time before new changes come into effect. The best places to find up to date guidance are