The NSW government will ease coronavirus restrictions on religious services, weddings and funerals from Monday, when measures to increase pub and restaurant patronage come into effect.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said from June up to 20 people can attend weddings, 50 at funerals and 50 at places of worship, subject to the maintenance of social distance rules.
“We know how important these services are to individuals and families but as we ease restrictions further, we must remember to keep one another safe,” Ms Berejiklian said in a statement on Friday.
“It is crucial that worshippers remember to follow health advice. This is particularly important for people with co-morbidities aged over 50 and people aged over 70.”
The government had been wary about adjusting the restrictions on places of worship after observing COVID-19 outbreaks in churches and church choirs overseas.
But state religious leaders pushed for the relaxation after the government last week announced up to 50 people would be allowed to dine in restaurants, pubs and cafes from June 1, up from 10 currently.
NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant outlined some of the risks churches would have to manage.
“Places of worship will be asked to find alternatives to practices that might spread the virus, like singing, sharing books and even passing around the collection plate, to reduce infection risks,” she said on Friday.
“Communal singing and chanting should not occur because of the high risk of transmission of the virus.
“Instead, measures such as one singer standing at least three metres away from others would be safer.”
Meanwhile, the state government has a fight on its hands to get a 12-month public sector pay freeze through parliament, with upper house crossbench MPs vowing to block the $ 3 billion saving measure.
Ms Berejiklian on Thursday raised the possibility of job losses amid the COVID-19 pandemic unless the proposed freeze was endorsed on Macquarie Street.
But NSW Labor, the Greens and the Shooters Party have flagged they will block the move in the Legislative Council, with one crossbencher arguing the coalition is engaging in “economic blackmail” during a health crisis.
Ms Berejiklian last week sought a freeze on pay rises for MPs, which was extended on Wednesday to include the entire NSW public service comprising 410,000 workers.
The pause on the 2.5 per pay rise would save about $ 3 billion, which the government said would be reinvested in public projects.
Unions NSW secretary Mark Morey has labelled the plan an act of “economic vandalism” at a time when frontline workers such as nurses, police officers and teachers are risking their lives.
The nurses union said the coalition was being disingenuous by saying it was grateful for the work done by nurses and midwives during the crisis and then refusing them a modest pay increase.
“They’ve been told they can have a pat on the back but (also) a slap in the face, and that is just so disappointing,” NSW Nurses and Midwives’ Association general secretary Brett Holmes said on Wednesday.
NSW reported one new case of COVID-19 on Thursday – a Queensland woman who had recently returned from overseas and was in hotel quarantine.
Almost 3100 cases have been recorded in NSW while one person is in intensive care.
Australian Associated Press