THE decision by the government to allow churches to reopen for sit-in services, albeit, for fully-vaccinated congregants, is a recipe for disaster and flies in the face of stakeholders’ efforts to curb the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a post-Cabinet media briefing on Wednesday, Information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said church leaders, who violated the regulations, would be arrested, adding that the government would deploy health officials to screen congregants.
Mutsvangwa’s statement did not give a limit on the number of congregants allowed for sit-in services, creating a situation in which overcrowding is likely to be the order of the day with the potential of turning church gatherings into super spreaders of the virulent disease.
It is laughable for the government to say it will deploy health officials to screen congregants. The country is battling to recruit adequate health personnel to cater for COVID-19 patients that have overwhelmed public health institutions as well as implement the vaccination programme. Where will it get the extra health officials to screen congregants at churches countrywide?
The pronouncement which essentially gives churches the carte blanche to hold services is in stark contrast to President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s concerns over the possibility of a fourth wave which prompted him to extend the lockdown by a further two weeks.
“Our country, however, still has a long way to go to reach over 60% of the population for herd immunity. Several countries globally and in our region are beginning to experience the fourth wave of the pandemic. It is quite worrisome to us — these trends in countries that are next to us,” Mnangagwa said. “In most of our neighbours, infections have shown an upward trend. We, therefore, need to remain vigilant now and not later if we are to effectively control the current third wave and avoid a fourth wave.”
To open up churches two days later without limiting numbers is a weird way for Mnangagwa to show his concern for the increase in COVID-19 infections and the lurking fourth wave of the pandemic.
One cannot help but assume that this move is meant to benefit a certain apostolic sect, which held its annual passover where members gathered in large numbers despite the ban on public gatherings.
Zanu PF draws much of its political support from apostolic sects, hence the continued treatment of this group with kid gloves. Without taking away the rights of individuals and groups to gather and practise their faith, common sense must prevail in balancing the protection of the public’s health with their rights.
From a public health perspective, restricting in-person religious gatherings makes sense as COVID-19 is easily spread as an aerosol, such as when people are talking or singing.
Whatever the reason, this reckless decision can only spell doom, the sooner government realises this, the better.