28 September 2023

Melbourne parishes free to choose rules as mandatory isolation scrapped

People attend a service at St Paul’s cathedral. Picture: Janine Eastgate.

Jenan Taylor

5 October 2022

Anglican parishes are free to make COVID-19 isolation rules and ask unwell members to stay home, the Melbourne diocese says.

Federal, state and territory governments agreed on Friday that people who test positive to COVID will no longer have to isolate from 14 October.

The decision was made despite the Australian Medical Association advising against it, warning that the move had the potential to trigger another wave and cause another crisis for the healthcare system.

Anglican Diocese of Melbourne Bishop Paul Barker said that the Church would follow the policy it had adopted throughout COVID and not make rules that were stricter than those of the government, but that individual churches could.

Bishop Barker said that the diocese had only communicated rules that applied specifically to church facilities, and that the removal of isolation requirements was not particular to the Melbourne Church.

He said he hoped people with any symptoms didn’t attend church, but that it would be hard to monitor.

“If somebody turns up, and they’ve got mild symptoms, it’s hard to detect that and hard to stop them entering,” Bishop Barker said.

He said he had pondered putting out a statement but felt there was little need.

“I don’t know what we’re going to say other than what the government has said, that is if you do have symptoms, don’t go out. Don’t be with people. That’s part of the government’s recommendation,” Bishop Barker said.

He said he understood that COVID was not like the flu.

Read more: Churches rejoice as restrictions lifted for the jabbed

However up until now, the church’s pandemic policies had tended to follow the government rules, Bishop Barker said.

Bishop Barker also said no churches had asked the diocese for advice, but that he was aware that some were still asking members to keep wearing masks.

He said that personally he believed that it would be a wise move for people to isolate when they had COVID symptoms, although it could be frustrating for some.

“But we’re not going to push something tougher than what the government has said. I hope people who have symptoms and have COVID do isolate, but that’s up to them in the end,” Bishop Barker said.

Holy Trinity Williamstown priest the Reverend Elizabeth Murray said the church had been asking parishioners to be caring and sensible, and that the scrapping of the mandatory rules hadn’t changed the advice it had given people.

She said as Holy Trinity’s main demographic was older and perhaps more vulnerable, many people still chose to wear masks.

She also said the parish was still using COVID safety measures in the distribution of Holy Communion, and that a number of parishioners worked in the healthcare sector, so COVID was very real for them.

“Various parishioners with colds and sniffles have been choosing to stay home of their own accord. They usually let me know when they’re doing that, so we can also pray for them to get better,” Ms Murray said.

Parish of Westmeadows Bulla locum the Reverend David Greentree said his congregation was very small, and that he didn’t’ think something necessarily needed to be said to them as they would simply not come to church if they felt unwell.

Mr Greentree said the church had still strongly encouraged mask wearing but that only about a third of the people were wearing them in church.

“They’re aware of the dangers and they’re an older congregation so they’re taking some precautions,” he said.

Mr Greentree said he didn’t think he would need to seek further advice from elsewhere about the situation.

But he said that he would expect that if it changed for the worse, and the diocese thought something ought to be done, that they would notify parishes without waiting to be asked.

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