Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern asked religious communities “for patience for a little longer” hinting that the limit of 10 on public gatherings may be expanded, but probably not up to 100.
This was revealed by Auckland Bishop and NZCBC president Bishop Patrick Dunn who was among the religious leaders who met with the Prime Minister in a Zoom meeting on May 13.
“The Prime Minister said New Zealand was still at a very ‘vulnerable’ stage in what she hoped would be a rapid return to normal life. She asked for patience for a little longer and hoped to review the limit of 10 when the next stage of Level 2 was announced on Monday 25 May,” Bishop Dunn said. “She hinted that, unless there was a spike in new infections, the limit of 10 would hopefully be expanded, but probably not initially to 100. This maximum would then be reviewed again after a further two weeks.” Catholic and Anglican bishops wrote to the Prime Minister, which resulted in a Zoom conference on Wednesday (May 13) with her, Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield and Associate Health Minister Jenny Salesa. Bishop Dunn said Ms Ardern left a cabinet meeting to attend this.
Wellington Cardinal John Dew attended the meeting with Bishop Dunn.
“The Prime Minister said she deeply appreciated how difficult these days were for religious leaders, and she knew how important faith was in sustaining people at all times, but especially at moments of great crisis, such as a death in the family or a pandemic like this,” Bishop Dunn said.
In the meeting, Bishop Dunn said the religious leaders “made the point that with social distancing and careful management we could cope with numbers far greater than 10”.
“A Muslim leader said his people pray five times each day in the mosque, and they had felt they could cope safely with 100 worshippers,” he said.
Asked specifically why a restaurant can host a large number of diners while a religious service is not allowed, Ms Ardern explained that the difference was that people will only socialise in their own bubbles in restaurants and not engage with diners at other tables.
“Religious gatherings, by contrast, tended to foster fellowship as well as worship. She said she grew up in a small parish of perhaps 50 families, but they all knew one another. She regarded her parish as her extended family. When they got together it was not like a group of 10 going for a meal at a restaurant: they would all chat with one another. This made religious gatherings a slightly higher risk with this very contagious virus,” Bishop Dunn said.
The Prime Minister assured the faith leaders the Cabinet was “taking very seriously the distress being expressed over the restrictions for religious gatherings”.
“She hoped that they would not continue for much longer, and again expressed her gratitude for the support that religious leaders offer for the spiritual lives of our citizens. We, in turn, thanked her and the Government for the measures they were taking to keep us safe at this challenging time,” he said.