Covid-19 And Religious Gatherings

By Tunde Henry

“We may never shake hands again” – Dr. Anthony Fauci

Moving to the second phase of the gradual easing of lockdown in the country, churches and mosques have been given a green light on resumption of their services provided the guidelines given by the government will be followed. Religious gatherings is a one-way ticket to the spread of the virus because of its high close contact and large gatherings.

The Presidential task force (PTF) on Covid-19, on Monday, released safety measures that all religious places must implement as they resume their operations. The use of facemasks, washing of hands, temperature checks, services not more than an hour as well as physical distancing of two metres between people were instructed.

The use of facemasks in churches and mosques is now mandatory but how can choristers lead praises and worships with the use of masks while singing? Singing also ejects large droplets from the mouth to the atmosphere in as much as four times higher than talking. Also, some singers occasionally can have a spray coming out of their mouths when projecting their voice. In early March, a choir practice led to a large outbreak in Washington State, according to the Los Angeles Times. Dozens of choir members who attended the practice at a church were diagnosed with Covid-19, and at least two died. Should churches refrain from singing and if music is performed during a service, should it be something recorded? A caller suggested on Nigeria info FM had suggested that: “Churches should create overflows, more services and sharing of worship devices such as microphones should be discouraged.”

Running water, soap and hand-sanitizers must be made available for all worshipers to disinfect their hands before entry as included in the guidelines. But have you ever watched a Muslim believer who is in a race against time for his Solat? He would dash into the mosque, all he could think about is how he would quickly align himself with the congregation behind the Imam.

Before ablution, which requires touching of mouth, nose and eyes, hand washing with soaps are made compulsory but would a believer who is in a hurry not to miss more rakats than he had already missed be calm enough to wash his hands for another twenty seconds at least before joining the Imam?

In Kwara state, Muslims are instructed to perform ablution in their houses as ablution spots remained close so as to avoid the spread of the virus. As said by the Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI) Secretary-General, Dr. Abubakar-Aliu, it would be indeed difficult for worshippers to keep to these rules issued by the PTF and it not easy how this can be realised.

Benue State Governor, Samuel Ortom also has announced that the churches and mosques can resume worship in the state, and are to hold staggered worship sessions in accordance with the PTF guidelines. Physical distancing of at least two metres between worshippers should be observed and members of the same family should sit together during services.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) & member of Coronavirus Task Force in the United States, said he would like two things to continue even after the pandemic, one is hand washing and the other is discontinuation of handshakes. He stressed that shaking hands is really one of the major ways to transmit a respiratory borne diseases and that custom must be broken, we should prepare for the “new normal” post covid-19 outbreak. Shaking hands might be one of the hardest customs to lose in the post-pandemic world.

Also, the PTF advised those with underlying health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer as well as people that are above 55 years to stay back at home to worship. Also, no prayer or service should exceed an hour, as religious organizations are instructed to limit the time of their services.

However, the PTF disclosed that states would be allowed to take their decisions in the reopening of worship centers in accordance with the guidelines issued.

On Tuesdays, states such as Lagos, Ogun, Oyo and Kaduna said worship centers may not be reopened to worshippers due to disagreement on protocols and guidelines. The Federal Government had on Monday lifted the ban on religious gatherings. Some religious leaders are quick to call on the Lagos State government to ease the restriction on religious centres in the state, giving a comparison of why worship centers should be opened to gathering of people in markets, motor parks and banks.

The Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Most Rev Alfred Adewale Martins, kicked against the continue closure of churches. He stated that churches as institutions are better able to exert control of situations and maintain discipline in comparison with other most institutions. He also mentioned that it is unfair for the state government to restrict gatherings for worship when other gatherings are allowed and that monitoring is more easily done in churches than in markets or motor parks. He added that gathering in churches is as equally essential as to eating and getting money from the banks.

On Thursday, the Lagos State Safety commission and Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) opened a registration for religious and social centers to register in preparation for their full reopening and would also be paying a visit to the centers to assess their level of readiness for reopening. Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu also on the same day, stated dates for reopening as June 19 for mosques and June 21 for churches, with members not exceeding 500 in attendance for each service.

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