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Covid-19: Police give green-light to large church services, contradicting PM's stance

Police today released new enforcement guidelines suggesting that large religious services during Alert Level 2 will be allowed to resume, provided they keep to physical distancing and remain in groups of 10.

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The new guidelines have contradicted Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's stance. Source: 1 NEWS

1 NEWS can reveal the new guidelines issued by police today would potentially allow dozens to attend a service at any one time.

It contradicts the position taken by the Government - and reiterated by the Prime Minister - that a maximum cap of 10 people remains.

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Police guidelines go against the Government position that gatherings aren’t allowed. Source: 1 NEWS

However, police say if the venue size allows, multiple groups of 10 could be present at a religious service so long as each group remained two metres apart.

Appropriate contact tracing would also need to be kept.

“There is no longer a direction for all premises to close. The community is able to resume various day-to-day activities. Places of worship may now open.

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The message from masses and other services is that we all need to do our bit and use the time with our families to reflect. Source: 1 NEWS

“This assumes that people involved do comply at all times with the distancing restrictions and don’t, for example, mingle more widely at the end of a service,” the guidelines say.

Police were forced to clarify the rules after questions were raised regarding its internal guidelines issued last week.

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It suggested places of worship would likely be viewed as “event facilities”, therefore allowing up to 100 attendees while suggesting refreshments to followers after a service would also be permitted.

Earlier this week National Party MP Simeon Brown called for greater clarity.

“I am calling on the Government to clarify this matter urgently…I am also calling on the Government to release any internal police guidance on these matters.

“Kiwis have the right to know how tough restrictions imposed by Government are going to be interpreted and enforced,” he said.

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The Prime Minister responded on Monday, insisting Crown Law advice on religious services was clear and reiterated a cap of 10.

“Crown Law considered that religious services fall under the definition of gatherings…so obviously that’s where I look to,” Jacinda Ardern said.

In its guidance today, police urged officers to use “discretion and common sense” when attending a place of worship in an operational capacity.

“We need to remember that faith is a very important aspect of many New Zealanders' lives and therefore need to be treated using high levels of empathy and sensitivity.”