East London councils call on places of worship to close during lockdown

Leaders of the London boroughs with some of the highest rates of coronavirus in the country have urged places of worship to close during lockdown.

Unlike in the first national lockdown in March, places of worship are not required to shut in England as long as visitors can observe social distancing.

But Barking and Dagenham, Redbridge councils joined Newham, Hackney and Haringey in writing to religious leaders in their boroughs on Tuesday to call for a temporary ban on “face-to-face meetings” and services to be moved online.

Waltham Forest has also now joined the call along with Tower Hamlets.

The East London Mosque in Whitechapel, one of the largest in Europe which can accommodate more than 7,000 worshippers , was among the first to agree to shut.

“Despite the Government allowing places of worship to remain open, our concern about the very high levels of COVID-19 locally has led us to take the difficult decision to close the East London Mosque for prayers from the end of today,” the mosque said in a statement.

“This decision has not been taken lightly. But just as last March, when we and many other mosques closed even before the Government announced a national lockdown, we’re putting the safety of our congregation, our staff and our volunteers above our strong desire to maintain communal worship.”

The closure decision will be reviewed in two weeks and online services will be broadcast. Funerals will also still take place.

The call from the London councils was also backed by the bishop of Barking, the Al Madina Mosque in Barking and Sikh Gurdwaras in Redbridge.

Barking and Dagenham council leader Darren Rodwell said: “I am asking people of all faiths not to attend their place of worship for communal worship due to the rising levels of COVID-19 and the pressure this has placed on our local hospitals in our part of London.

“We have support from our faith leaders in calling for this. None of us want to see places of worship closed but we are in challenging times and urgent action is needed.

“We look forward to the day when we can worship again together within our communities.”

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Rachael Burford

Local Democracy Reporter