Scotland's former chief medical officer will chair a Covid-19 working group formed by bishops as steps continue towards reopening churches.

Sir Harry Burns said the unprecedented nature of the pandemic required "innovative and informed thinking" and commended the bishops' decision.

"I am glad that the Catholic Bishops are acting proactively to develop Infection Control measures and delighted to be able to contribute to that work," he said.

“The reopening of churches and the reintroduction of public worship will happen in a phased way, always taking account of best infection control practice and guidelines on social distancing and hygiene.”

Sir Harry is Professor of Global Public Health at the University of Strathclyde. The Covid-19 Working Group he chairs will begin work on the creation of an Infection Control Protocol.

That protocol will govern the phased reopening of churches for public worship at an early and safe opportunity and will be in accordance with legislation and Scottish Government guidelines on social distancing and hygiene.

The precautions and requirements to allow Catholic churches to reopen for public worship, will be studied carefully and proposed Infection Control Protocols presented to the Scottish Government.

Bishop Hugh Gilbert, President of the Bishops’ Conference of Scotland will also sit on the group.

He said: “Our lives remain greatly restricted by this crisis in a way that is painful and difficult for us as Christians.

"As bishops, we want to offer our thanks to our clergy, religious and laity for their patience and forbearance during these testing times.

“Throughout these weeks of lockdown, there have been many signs of hope and faith and it is in the hope that we will recover, that we must plan for the future and find a safe pathway to the resumption of our sacramental life.”

He added: “The bishops are keen to benefit from the advice of experts in medicine and public health and are very grateful to Sir Harry Burns for agreeing to chair our Working Group. In the interests of everyone’s safety we will proceed cautiously and carefully in step with public health guidance.”

Archbishop Cushley said:  “I warmly welcome the establishment of the Working Group, which will propose procedures and protocols that will allow us to progress in stages and in a safe way towards the opening of our churches for prayer, and later, for worship, even if at first in a curtailed form. I look forward to seeing the Group's work and to putting it into action as soon as possible, always with a due sense of public responsibility”.