In Iceland, more people can gather in saunas than in churches
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REYKJAVIK, Iceland, January 6, 2021 (LifeSiteNews) – According to new COVID-19 guidance issued by the government of Iceland, more people are allowed to gather in saunas than in churches. While churches are still restricted to a maximum of ten people present, other establishments like saunas, restaurants, pools, shopping centers, and movie theaters are now allowed to host more than that amount.
The new guidelines state, “Performing arts, cinemas and other cultural events will be homes for up to 30 people [for] rehearsals and performances. Up to 50 seated guests may be accommodated …”
Additionally, swimming and bathing places may be open to 50 percent capacity.
And yet, assembling for church must be limited to no more than ten people at a time, the only exception being funerals. Still, no more than 50 people are allowed at funerals.
In response to the island country’s COVID-19 restrictions, Iceland’s single Catholic bishop, David B. Tencer, issued a statement on January 4 asking the government to reconsider, citing many glaring inconsistencies.
I ask all those responsible for these regulations to change these rules where justice does not seem to be observed. Our churches are not small. If it is possible to hold a funeral or even a concert with 50 people, how is it that only ten people can attend Mass?
How do I explain to our parishioners that many restaurants can accommodate more customers?
How to explain that in Landakotskirkja there can only be ten people but, for example there can be more than ten in a sauna? We all find it difficult to live in these conditions, but such decisions make it even more difficult.
I pray for all but especially for those who make and apply these rules to consider this matter wisely and correct this unfair discrepancy.
Tencer explained that churches cannot “follow all the current regulations on the restrictions” and has canceled Sunday Masses and Vigil Masses on Saturday nights for the time being.
In the church of Landakotskirkja in downtown Reykjavík, Mass was still celebrated last Sunday for a group of about 50 people when the police came. It was the second time the church was visited by the police for breaking COVID rules. The cathedral, which was once known as the largest church building in Iceland, celebrated Christmas for about 100 Polish faithful. When police arrived, they “had a chat about the importance of the gathering ban and the rules” with the priests, according to grapevine.is.
Jakob Rolland, chancellor of the Catholic Church in Iceland, said about limitations on church attendance in Iceland after the Christmas Mass incident in Landakotskirkja was singled out, “It seems that there are not the same rules that apply, for example, in shops and in the church … I think it needs to be looked at a little bit more closely and here in a large church like this one, the rules should be a little different from what happens in small spaces.”
According to Iceland’s Ministry of Health, the new guidelines are in place until January 12. It is unclear how church gatherings will be treated afterwards.
With a population of over 350,000, Iceland has so far reported only 5,832 coronavirus cases and 29 deaths in almost a year.