British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has ordered places of worship to shut and prohibited baptisms and weddings, in a series of dramatic measures to combat the spread of the coronavirus.
Johnson announced that, from Monday evening, people must stay at home except for shopping for basic necessities, one piece of daily exercise, medical needs and travelling to and from “essential” work.
All social events in Britain are prohibited, including weddings, baptisms and other ceremonies, but funerals will be allowed.
Shops selling non-essential goods, such as clothes and electronics, will also be shut, with only food shops and pharmacies allowed to stay open. Libraries, playgrounds and outdoor gyms will also be shut. Parks will remain open, but police will be able to disperse any large gatherings.
The Prime Minister promised to review the measures regularly, saying: “We will look again in three weeks, and relax them if the evidence shows we are able to.”
“Without a huge national effort to halt the growth of this virus, there will come a moment when no health service in the world could possibly cope; because there won’t be enough ventilators, enough intensive care beds, enough doctors and nurses,” Johnson said.
“And as we have seen elsewhere, in other countries that also have fantastic health care systems, that is the moment of real danger.”
In a message to clergy on Monday night, Cardinal Vincent Nichols said it was “essential that we all follow this instruction, painful and difficult though it is.”
In a message to the laity, he added: “As our churches have to remain closed, let’s open our hearts even wider. As the Psalms say “Grow higher ancient doors and let the King of Glory enter.” These are the doors of our hearts. God know well how to fill our lives. We must open our hearts in prayer and silent welcome.
“Even in this difficult time, there is evidence of so much good. Online congregations at Mass on Sunday were huge. Examples of online participation are so encouraging. Even the experience of the Acts of Spiritual Communion, all made at the same time, were deeply nourishing. God is so good.
“Today we are learning, step by step, the truth of the old axiom: God is not limited by his sacraments. The Holy Spirit overcomes our distances, prompts and enriches our prayer. Encourage this personal and shared prayer. Don’t finish a telephone call, or an online chat without a moment of shared prayer!”