The New South Wales government in Australia introduced new guidelines that ban singing in places of worship, even for livestreams. These restrictions are inspired by the slight increase in COVID-cases in the area.
The new restriction came into effect on June 26, and states that "Singing by audiences at indoor shows or by congregants at indoor places of worship are not allowed." The restrictions were put in place for "2 weeks."
In an email to religious leaders obtained by Eternity, the government wrote "please be advised that under the current Public Health Order (PHO), NSW Health has now confirmed that singing is not permitted in indoor areas of places of public worship. This includes during a live stream, and in regional NSW. This rule will protect people who may be involved in assisting in livestreaming an event, for example technical assistance, or who may be in regional communities attending a service."
The email also said that religious service leaders have to wear masks during the livestream, except when they are giving a speech. "The requirement is to wear a face mask in all indoor areas of non-residential premises. This rule applies across the whole of NSW. A service leader may temporarily take off their mask to deliver a speech for accessibility reasons."
The health order prompted backlash from Australian Christian leaders, including Brian Houston, pastor at the Hillsong Church. He said on Twitter "No singing. Not only no singing in church but to a camera for church online. It's just not right. Let's make a stand."
Houston also said that this move was discrimination against religion and said that it is so draconian that it's hard to believe. The imposing of strict restrictions due to COVID-19 on places of worship is a trend seen across the western world, including in Canada.
The move has also prompted Canadian pastors to speak out. Rev. Aaron Rock of Harvest Bible Church in Windsor said in a Facebook Post, "first they convince you that livestream/zoom church is real church (it's not), and then they take that away too. This is the trap Christians walk into when they exchange God’s clear instructions for the opinions of the 'experts'."
Australia, which has adopted a "COVID Zero" model that some Canadian doctors and politicians are advocating for in Canada, has seen some of the most brutal lockdowns in the world when small increases of cases begin.
For example, New South Wales, which has a population of over 8.1 million, was locked down after public health reported 38 cases and over 100 active cases. Melbourne had also been under extreme lockdowns, which limited people's mobility and restricted the reasons for the to leave their house.