Guidance from Deputy Chief Medical Officer and Policy Update
Date Uploaded: 
Sunday 24th January 2021




This email is being sent to all communities. However, it is written

specifically to those communities that remain open.


Dear Rabbis, Rebbetzens and Chairs,


Shavua Tov, We hope that you are well.


Following the Prime Minister’s strengthened ‘stay at home’ warning, we wanted to update you on a meeting we attended with the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Jenny Harries, together with Steven Wilson and colleagues from the Office of the Chief Rabbi.


Dr Harries acknowledged our approach in permitting communities to make their own decisions about staying open or closed, based on the local context. She noted that the interventions required by government guidance have worked and, where applied correctly, keep the risk of infection inside Places of Worship, which are a controlled environment, at a low level. We continue to thank you for the hours and hours that you have invested to achieve that and to enable davening to continue.


However, she also asked us to emphasise the following three points:


1. Mingling of households

There is an increased risk of infection on the way to and from places of worship, either because people don’t understand the transmission risk or because in social environments people drop their guard. We need to interrupt this normal pattern of behaviour and be vigilant that people don’t mix households when walking to and from our buildings.


Please, therefore, continue to let members know that they must not walk to and from shul with anyone from outside their household, nor should they use the walk as an opportunity to socialise with others.   Further to this, communities must manage a staggered departure at the end of the service.


2. Members aged over 70

Dr Harries supported the distinction made between age groups in policy-making, as well as our discouragement of older members from attending services. She noted that the risk levels start to rise in those aged 50 and above and shared data showing that this group represent a high proportion of ICU cases (see data here). 


We are cognisant that the infection rates are dropping in London.  However, they remain dangerously high and hospitals continue to be under severe pressure.


We recognise that attendance at shul is a personal choice, but, given the disproportionate risk of serious illness or mortality with increasing age, we want to reinforce our messaging. We ask today that members aged over 70 pause their attendance temporarily, and that over 50s are reminded about the additional age-related risk and asked to factor that into their decisions about attendance. Please convey this message to your regular members in this age group.  We realise that this may mean that some communities who rely on those aged over 70 to make a minyan, might need to pause services.  This policy will be reviewed in two weeks’ time when we will share an update. 


3. Members who have been vaccinated

Dr Harries’ third key message was to encourage everyone to have the vaccine when they have the opportunity. This is the country’s best hope of returning to normality. At the same time, she pointed out that once a person has had the vaccine they still need to act with the same great caution until government has more data and greater knowledge about its efficacy, particularly in older people, and the extent to which vaccinated people can still transmit the virus.  Intensive research is underway to clarify this position, and it should not be too long before more is known. (We expect that the monitoring currently underway in Israel will be of particular importance.)


The advice we received from Dr Harries has given us confidence in our protocols when we know that those on our sites are fully compliant but has also pushed us to focus on areas where risk can still be minimised.  We thank you for working in partnership with us to ensure that we continue to prioritise the safety of our members.


Please do not hesitate to be in touch with any questions.


With very best wishes,

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Jo Grose

Communities and Strategy Director

United Synagogue

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Rabbi Nicky Liss


Rabbinical Council of the United Synagogue


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