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Choirs and Covid-19 in Alert Level 2

Q&A with leading NZ epidemiologist Professor Michael Baker

On the eve of entering Alert Level 2, Wednesday 13 May, we hosted a Q&A session with Professor Michael Baker via Zoom/YouTube. Prof Baker is part of the Ministry of Health’s COVID-19 Technical Advisory Group and has had a high profile in worldwide media as an advocate for the New Zealand government’s approach to “stamping out and keeping out” the virus rather than simply aiming to “flatten the curve”. Though not a singer himself, Michael is surrounded by choral music in his household, with a wife, son and daughter who all sing in choirs.

NZCF members were invited to send in questions for Michael in advance and these were posed to him by NZCF Chair Juliet Dreaver, ACD Chair David Squire and NZCF Chief Executive Christine Argyle.

This page includes a summary of the key points that emerged from the discussion, as well as a link to guidelines for rehearsals in Levels 1 & 2, but we do encourage you to watch the half-hour video below for yourself.



Government guidelines for Alert Level 2

NZCF guidelines for rehearsals under Alert Levels 1 & 2

Clarification of current Level 2 restrictions

  • Community choirs have the same restrictions as faith-based gatherings and clubs – a maximum of 100 people may rehearse together, as of midday 29 May 2020. These numbers will be reviewed on 8 June and Cabinet will consider a move to Alert Level 1 no later than 22 June.
  • The 100-person maximum applies per each defined, separated area within a venue, as long as intermingling in common spaces, such as entrances, exits and toilets, can be prevented. Therefore, a larger choir could potentially conduct sectional rehearsals simultaneously at the same venue if they are in self-contained, separated spaces.
  • School groups are subject to the Ministry of Education guidelines which state “practices and rehearsals will be able to go ahead (note the physical distancing recommendation of 1 metre distance where practicable, for singing and wind instruments)” .  The current recommendations for schools differ to those for the wider community because of the much lower level of transmission among children and teenagers.
  • Community children’s choirs which include children from multiple schools are also subject to the level 2 restrictions on gatherings (ie, no more than 100).

Many choirs may prefer to wait until Level 1 (no restrictions on numbers) before resuming rehearsals.

General considerations

Singing does pose a greater risk than talking or laughing – a higher number of aerosols and droplets are expelled when we sing, but not nearly as many as when we cough or sneeze.

The situation in New Zealand is very different to that in the US or Europe, where the virus is much more prevalent. The risk of exposure in New Zealand is far lower, but we should nonetheless assume that the people we come into contact with may carry the virus, so it’s important to take the necessary precautions and adhere to the government guidelines.

The key factors to consider during Alert Level 2 are:

  • intensity (singing vs talking)
  • numbers (adhere to the government restrictions)
  • duration (limit rehearsals to a maximum of 2 hours)
  • proximity (singers should stand 2 metres apart)

Under Alert Level 1, most restrictions will be lifted and the focus will be on borders and contact tracing. Under Alert Level 1 it is considered it will be safe to assume our normal rehearsal practices, as the virus will be contained.

If it is unsafe to rehearse, it will also be unsafe to interact with large groups in other ways, and New Zealand will re-enter level 3 or 4. Choirs should follow the government guidelines in order to decide when it is safe to resume rehearsals. At each alert level, singers over 70 or those with underlying health issues will need to exercise their own judgement regarding the potential risks.