A total of 120 Scots attended at church or other places of worship while infectious with coronavirus, the latest weekly figures have shown.
Professor Jason Leitch, the Scottish Government’s national clinical director, revealed the total to a Holyrood committee as he insisted the decision to bar people from attending daily religious services in person was the “right thing to do”.
As mainland Scotland went back into lockdown, places of worship are now only permitted to conduct weddings or funerals – with the number of people attending at these strictly limited – and to broadcast services online.
With people still able to attend for religious services in England, Scotland’s Catholic Bishops have branded the restriction as “arbitrary and unfair”.
Prof Leitch told MSPs on the Covid-19 Committee: “At this point in the pandemic, I think it is the right thing to do.”
He stated: “In last week’s Test and Protect data 120 people went to places of worship during their infectious period. 120 people.
“That creates a risk I am unwilling to take in the advice I give to the decisionmakers.”
Deputy First Minister John Swinney said places of worship had been included in the latest lockdown – which was brought in to try to curb the new, faster spreading strain of Covidid-19 – because of the “potential for the virus to spread” at services.
He told the committee: “Sadly and regrettably, and very much to my personal regret, that cannot exclude places of worship, because we have to acknowledge places of worship are places where people come together, there is the potential for the virus to spread.
“This is about protecting the public from a very serious virus and making sure that places of worship are able to play their part in that effort.”
Conservative MSP Gordon Lindhurst insisted, however, that being able to attend religious services was a “fundamental human right”.
He told Mr Swinney: “Here in Scotland the First Minister and your government have set out regulations which entirely curtail that fundamental right
“Constituents have contacted me, upset and very concerned about this.”
The Deputy First Minister responded: “Nobody in the Government wants to restrict anybody’s ability to take part in communal religious worship, it is the last thing on earth I want to do.
“But we have to acknowledge … where there is human interaction in whatever context, whether it is an early learning centre, a school, a factory, a shop, a bank, a hospital, a church, a place of worship, there is the opportunity for the virus to spread.
“Therefore, if we are getting to a point where as a society we cannot confidently assume that our National Health Service is going to be able to withstand the growth infection because of the level of human interaction in our society, we have got to take action to minimise that level of human interaction, and that is crucial in arresting the levels of the virus within our society.
“I would not accept a fundamental right is being curtailed here.”
Mr Swinney revealed how he and his family take part in an online church service every Sunday morning.
He added: “We do that within our own home, safely, able to participate in religious worship. Rights are in no way constrained by the restrictions but we are able to play our part in ensuring we don’t contribute to the circulation of the virus.”
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