The coronavirus pandemic has been testing in so many ways, for so many different people. One such group is brides and grooms-to-be, whose plans to get married have been disrupted for the past 15 months due to the danger of COVID spreading among large groups.
In February, Boris Johnson set out the government's plans to bring the UK out of lockdown, sharing a four-stage roadmap to ease restrictions. But a couple of weeks back, we received the sad news that stage four - the removal of all restrictions - was being postponed until 19 July. The Prime Minister's announcement has provided a rollercoaster of emotions for couples, with many being delighted that the blanket guest list restriction has been removed, while others are devastated at the limitations still imposed on the most important day of their lives. Since then, the government has made yet more changes to its guidance, so what are the rules for weddings until 19 July?
Here's what we know about how weddings are authorised to go ahead in England, if you're planning to get married in the next month or so...
What are the rules for weddings in England before 19 July?
Currently, and up until 21 June, wedding ceremonies and wedding receptions are permitted to go ahead in England with a maximum of 30 people (not including anyone working at the event). As regional tiers have been scrapped, it doesn't matter where you live in the country, these rules apply to all.
The wedding road map has so far played out, and will continue to progress, as follows:
From 8 March, wedding ceremonies with 6 people opened up, but only in exceptional circumstances and with no receptions allowed.
From 29 March, wedding ceremonies with 6 people were allowed in any circumstances, but wedding receptions were not permitted.
From 12 April, weddings and wedding receptions with up to 15 people were allowed to take place in COVID-19 secure venues that were permitted to open.
From 17 May, weddings and wedding receptions with up to 30 people were possible indoors or outdoors in a COVID-secure venue, including in private gardens, which is a change from the original rules which did not allow private gardens to facilitate wedding receptions.
From 21 June, there has been no set limit on guests, and instead the number has been determined by how many people the venue can safely facilitate with social distancing requirements still being fulfilled.
From 19 July, it is hoped that all legal limits on social contact will be removed at weddings, as well as all other social situations.
How has the guidance changed this week for weddings before 19 July?
It's great news for many that there has been a removal of the 30-person limit on guests at weddings. Instead, the number of attendees at weddings, civil partnerships and receptions is now determined "by how many people the venue or space can safely accommodate with social distancing measures in place."
While the blanket cap on attendee numbers is gone, weddings are still subject to numerous social distancing rules (which are laid out in the section below), however. On Monday 28 June, the government made some tweaks to its guidance, which are as follows:
For its guidance, the government has been using the words "must" in some places, and "should" in others for a while now. "Must" denotes that an activity must take place because it is a requirement under law. "Should" was previously interpreted as a non-legal requirement that people were strongly advised to carry out. Now, however, the government has added a new line to the definition of "should," which appears to make it a bit stricter. Its most current explanation states that there is "a legal requirement for the organiser or venue manager to take into account government guidance" where the word "should" is used.
The word "attendees" is now being used instead of the word "guests," which means that everyone at a wedding (whether they're working at the event or they're a guest) must now be counted in the venue's safe social distancing capacity.
The guidance now adds the recommendation for wedding attendees to get tested beforehand. This isn't a legal requirement, but it's the first time it's been encouraged in the official wedding rules.
The government has removed the guidance that "no food or drink should be consumed" during a wedding or civil service ceremony, which means guests can now eat or drink if they need to at the ceremony itself.
Weddings taking place in private gardens were previously subject to different rules to those taking place at a COVID-secure venue. It means rules for private garden weddings are now stricter; food and drink provided by a third-party supplier must be ordered, served and consumed at the table if alcohol is present at the wedding. This is now a legal requirement. If you are providing the food and the drink at your wedding, the guidance to order, receive and consume food at the table is a "should" and not a "must."
If your wedding is taking place at a COVID-secure venue, your guests no longer have to pay for any drinks they buy at the table (they must still be ordered, served and consumed at the table).
In terms of enforcing the rules, there has been even more onus now placed on individual responsibility, as opposed to your venue taking sole responsibility. "The police can issue directions to individuals, break up illegal gatherings and issue fixed penalty notices against those who do not comply," the rules now read.
The rest of the guidance remains the same, which you can find in the next section...
What are the social distancing rules that must be followed at weddings in England?
While many couples are delighted at the removal of the 30-person cap at weddings, what's still gutting is the fact that many of the social distancing rules still remain, removing what many people feel is the essence of their big day. The restrictions are as follows:
Attendees and staff at a wedding ceremony or reception indoors must wear a face covering (except when eating or drinking), unless exempt. Non-health exemptions include the couple getting married, and those officiating at the wedding.
If alcohol is being served, all food and drink (including non-alcoholic drink) must be ordered, served and consumed by attendees while seated at a table. This effectively removes the option for a drinks reception as mingling and standing is not allowed.
There is no requirement for guests to be seated on socially distanced tables, although the government advises that couples should "consider the risks of not doing so."
Indoor and outdoor musical or singing performances can take place at both ceremony or reception. There is no official limit on the number of professionals that can perform (like guests, the number should be determined by how many the venue can safely accommodate with social distancing measures in place) but for amateur performers there is a limit of 6 inside, and 30 performing outside at any given time.
Congregational and communal singing is "strongly advised against." This means it is not a legal requirement to remove any hymn singing, communal chanting or equivalent, but they are encouraging people to do so. This is due to increased risk of COVID transmission though aerosols and small droplets.
Venues are encouraged (but not required) to ensure the volume of background music remains low, and to refrain from playing music or broadcasts that may encourage raised voices among the attendees.
The first dance is allowed, but any other dancing is "advised against." This is not a legal requirement, however the closure of dance floors and other spaces for dancing is.
Speeches can go ahead, but should be undertaken "outside or in well ventilated areas wherever possible."
Physical social distancing is "personal responsibility" and not a strict rule. The government advises that "friends and family... may choose not to socially distance based on their understanding of the risks this involves."
In response to the ongoing restrictions placed upon weddings, campaign group What About Weddings described feeling "incredibly frustrated" that once again, "the government has failed to give both couples and businesses what they deserve after over a year of postponements and months of uncertainty."
"The Prime Minister’s statement this evening has not supported weddings. An increase in numbers, coupled with such severe restrictions, is clearly only a token gesture," the group said.
Pointing to blatant inconsistencies in the rules, the statement continued: "In every other social setting, when you sit down, you are allowed to remove your masks. However, in a formal wedding ceremony environment, without any alcohol, guests will still be required to wear masks. There are aspects and traditions involved with cultural weddings that cannot be undertaken with these restrictions. Couples want to be able to see their friends and family smiling as they tie the knot."
Here's hoping that, with some further conversation between the UK Weddings Taskforce and the government, we might see some easing of the more disparate restrictions still in place targeting weddings. If that happens, the wedding industry can pick back up - and that thousands of couples across the country can finally say "I do" in the way they had originally planned.
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