Leaders of Ireland's four main Christian churches have united to ask worshippers to wear face coverings while attending religious services.

The call came in a joint statement issued by Catholic Primate of All Ireland Eamon Martin; Church of Ireland Primate of All Ireland John McDowell; Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church David Bruce; and President of the Methodist Church in Ireland Tom McKnight.

It follows new restrictions announced yesterday that indoor gatherings in people's homes should be limited to six individuals from a maximum of three households, but some religious services, such as mass, were exempted and are allowed to host up to 50 attendees.

People were advised to use their own judgement with regards to attending mass, but Taoiseach Micheál Martin reassured mass-goers that measures are in place to attend safely.

The joint church statement said: "At this time, both in Northern Ireland and in the Republic of Ireland, the governments have not formally made mandatory the wearing of face coverings at services of worship.

"This is, in part, due to the fact that as churches we are committed to maintaining two metre physical distancing between household groups and strict adherence to all government guidance on hand hygiene, cleaning, ventilation etc."

The church leaders said it had become "increasingly clear" that the wearing of face coverings is likely to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

"Their use is, therefore, one way in which we can evidence protection for the most vulnerable, support for our health workers, and practical love for our neighbours," they said.

The four Christian leaders said they were now "formally recommending and encouraging the use of face coverings at all services of worship, along with the ongoing maintenance of two-metre physical distancing, from Sunday 30 August and earlier if practicable".

"We understand that some people are exempted from the wearing of face coverings, as outlined in the two jurisdictions," the statement added.

"We also recognise that whilst it may not be appropriate for those who are leading from the front during worship, including preaching, to wear face coverings, they should at all times continue to maintain at least two-metre physical distancing from one another, and four-metre physical distancing from the front row of the congregation."

The statement was signed by Dr Eamon Martin, Most Revd John McDowell, Dr David Bruce and Dr Tom McKnight.