Places of worship in the capital should shut immediately because of the risks of Covid infection, Sadiq Khan has said, amid signs that churches, mosques and synagogues are already closing their doors.
In a letter to the prime minister setting out his reasons for declaring a major incident in London, the mayor urged Boris Johnson to order places of worship to close, among other measures to tackle the crisis.
Under the lockdown restrictions, places of worship in England, Wales and Northern Ireland are permitted to remain open. The Scottish government has ordered them closed.
On Friday, Blackburn and Derby cathedrals announced they were suspending public worship following stark warnings from health officials of rising infection rates and increasing pressure on hospitals.
“This has been a difficult decision to come to, but in the interests of public health, responsible leadership and a determination to work together to see the suppression of the Covid pandemic, I hope people understand our need to act at this moment in time,” said Peter Howell-Jones, the dean of Blackburn.
Peter Robinson, the dean of Derby, said: “To serve the common good, keep people safe and protect our frontline workers, we need to make this temporary and timely sacrifice, so that before too long we can all gather for worship again.”
The cathedrals’ move came two days after the bishops of Barking and Chelmsford urged churches in their dioceses covering Essex and east London to move all worship online.
“We have some of the worst infection rates in the whole country,” said a spokesperson. “This is a very difficult decision to take but … necessary in order to protect the most vulnerable and the NHS.”
Northern Ireland’s main Christian denominations announced their churches will close at least early February after several parishes took local decisions to shut their doors.
“We don’t want to shut down, but it’s the right thing to do and we do it for the wellbeing of others,” the Rev Cheryl Meban of the Presbyterian church told the BBC.
Mosques in the London boroughs of Harrow, Redbridge, Hackney and Leyton as well as in Cambridge and Woking have closed their doors in the past few days.
Steven Wilson, the chief executive of the United Synagogue, which represents more than 60 congregations in the UK said: “We are faced with the agonising decision about whether to close our shuls.”
Writing in the Jewish Chronicle, he said local communities were best placed to decide what was right, but added: “Many of our shuls [synagogues] have decided to close and we will support them.”
Meanwhile, Ephraim Mirvis, the chief rabbi, told Jews in a video posted on Twitter: “When a vaccine is offered to you, you have a religious imperative to take it to look after yourself and to look after those around you.”