“He is concerned about families being kept apart and the knock-on effect that has, particularly on people who are on their own,” the source added. “The heart of the Christian faith is to love thy neighbour, which is increasingly difficult when strict rules are imposed by the centre.”

It follows mounting criticism of the ban on social gatherings of seven people or more amid fears the new rules will “cancel Christmas” by preventing larger family gatherings. 

Indicating his preference for a localised approach rather than a blanket national ban, Archbishop Welby said: “We are not immune to the temptation to pull more decisions into the centre, to feel that ‘something is being done’. But it is a temptation that should be resisted. Often that ‘something’ might not be as effective as what could be done locally.

“When it comes to Covid-19, the importance of local networks and communities becomes even greater. Scotland and Wales have shown that local public health is the best qualified to deal with local outbreaks. Local government, schools and voluntary agencies – including churches – can communicate well, act swiftly and measure risk and consequences on the ground.”

Writing with Sarah Mullally, the Bishop of London, Archbishop Welby added: “What began as a national – and international – crisis has been the top priority of Westminster, Whitehall, Holyrood and Cardiff, and will remain so for some time to come. 

“But in many ways the ‘on-the-ground’ response has been the most vital. Let’s place our trust in the local, and make sure it is resourced, trained, informed and empowered.”

Archbishop Welby’s intervention came as Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, warned that families would be breaking the “rule of six” if they “mingle” in the street (see video below).

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