Hopes that religious centres would soon hold services were dashed yesterday as some states retained the ban imposed by the Federal Government with a view to containing the spread of COVID-19 in the country.
The Federal Government had on Monday eased the restriction on worship centres. But churches and mosques in Lagos State will not reopen due to a disagreement between the state government and religious leaders over protocols and guidelines.
The possibility of reopening has been ruled out, declared Commissioner for Home Affairs, Anofiu Elegushi at a press briefing to commemorate the first year in office of Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu.
Elegushi said: “Even before the pronouncement by the Federal Government, we have been having meetings with the religious leaders. We even had one with the Safety Commission, looking at the possibility of reopening of religious houses.
“We also had one with the leaders of the two faiths. I want to tell you categorically that at that meeting, the possibility of reopening religious houses was ruled out totally. They claimed they could not take the responsibility of ensuring that only 20 or 50 people are praying behind them.
“Like an Imam said, he doesn’t know what goes on at his back immediately he is leading a prayer. He said if more than 20 or 50 people were staying at his back, he was not going to take responsibility for their presence.
“So, at the meeting, we ruled out in totality the issue of reopening the religious houses until we have a clear coast for us to do so. The Federal Government mentioned it, but it never ruled out the state in achieving that pronouncement. So, all states will have to look at the possibility of doing so in their respective states.”
Similarly, Kwara State Commissioner for Health, Dr Raji AbdulRazaq, disclosed yesterday that the state had not lifted the ban on religious activities.
In an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Ilorin, AbdulRazaq said although the Federal Government lifted the ban on religious activities in the country, it nevertheless left state authorities with the discretion to implement it.
The state government would meet with stakeholders to deliberate on the best modalities for protecting the people of the state, he added.This was as the chief press secretary to the governor and spokesman for technical committee on COVID-19, Rafiu Ajakaye, disclosed: “The state now has a total of 111 confirmed cases, out of which 73 are active, 37 have recovered and have been discharged, with one death.”
The Osun State government also announced that it would meet with religious leaders in the state to evolve modalities for the reopening of worship centres.“While we appreciate the patience of the citizens of the state so far, we are using this medium to urge citizens and residents not to be too anxious to assert the liberties contained in the new guidelines, so that we do not lose the gains that we have made over the last few weeks,” said Commissioner for Information Funke Egbemode in a statement yesterday.
This was as the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 yesterday reeled out more guidelines to worship centres when they reopen. Accordingly, churches and mosques would be required to keep a record of staff and worshippers for contact tracing purposes, while persons with high readings after temperature checks should be turned back.
At the daily briefing of the PTF in Abuja, National Coordinator Dr Sani Aliyu insisted it was better for people to worship at home because of the exponential phase of infection in the country.
He said worship places with high numbers of attendants could split their services into two or three depending, to ensure physical distancing. They should also observe at least a 30-minute interlude between services, so that members could wash their hands or disinfect the facility. He further advised worshippers to refrain from hugging, shaking hands, or kissing.
“Mosques are to open 20 minutes before prayers and close 20 minutes after prayers. No Islamiya schools. Prayer sections should be staggered. Worship centres should have different entry and exit points. No social gatherings before or after services. Business outlets at worship centres should remain closed.
“Facilities should be structured in a way that physical distancing is observed. People from the same household should be encouraged to stay together.
“Church/mosque volunteers (ushers, choir, security etc) that have underlying illnesses should not be allowed to serve, while the time for services should not be more than one hour. The elderly above 55 are advised to observe their worship services at home.
“Churches/mosques should improve their environmental hygiene. Windows should be left open during services, as it is more dangerous to hold services in enclosed places. Open-air services are preferable. There should be frequent cleaning of centres. Surfaces should be cleaned with diluted bleach. Worshippers with COVID-19 symptoms should not go to places of worship.”
The coordinator said places of worship must comply with all non-pharmaceutical measures such as the mandatory use of face masks, hand washing spots at entrances, hand sanitisers with at least 60 per cent alcohol content and mandatory temperature checks.
Also, Director General of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) Dr Chikwe Ihekweazu revealed that about 812 healthcare workers across the country had been infected with the coronavirus, even as over 65,000 samples had been tested. He said about 75 per cent of the nation’s cases contracted the virus through unknown sources while 23 per cent were contacts of people who returned to the country from abroad. Persons that returned from overseas made up only two per cent.
He explained that the 299 deaths recorded in the country represented a case ratio of three per cent, even as he noted that Nigeria had the third highest number of confirmed cases on the continent after South Africa and Egypt.
“The easing of the restrictions doesn’t mean easing of the response. Crossing the 10,000-number of infected persons is a significant event. These are people. Each number represents an individual with a family.
“We have activated over 30 labs. Sixty per cent of the cases in the country are in 20 local government areas. We have distributed over 40,000 pieces of PPEs. We keep pushing to test more, to establish where we are in the outbreak and strengthen national response.”
The Minister of Health Dr.Osagie Ehanire said the Federal Medical Centre, Lokoja and University of Calabar Teaching Hospital would be prioritised for the deployment of Gene Xpert machines as soon as the test kits were validated by the Medical Laboratory Science Council, so that citizens in Kogi and Cross River States, among others, would have better opportunities to be tested.
“I announced that Nigeria would participate in COVID-19 drug trial, which the WHO was leading but partly suspended. After consultation with top Nigerian scientists of the Ministerial Expert Advisory Committee, I am advised that Nigeria has something to add to the body of knowledge around these trials.
“I have therefore approved the continuation of the trial, as recommended, under strong precautionary conditions to be built into it. The leadership of the ministry also had the first briefing with the Ministerial Advisory Panel of Experts yesterday, led by foremost virologist, Prof. Tomori, and received a series of very useful advisories that will be discussed and shared with heads of agencies and departments of the ministry,” he said.
In his speech, PTF Chairman and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation Boss Mustapha called on state governments to shape the second phase of the eased lockdown approved by President Muhammadu Buhari.
He urged employers, employees and leaders of sectors allowed to reopen to diligently comply with non-pharmaceutical measures prescribed in the guidelines and the protocols agreed by state governments.
“It must be understood that every individual has a stake and a role to play. We must take responsibility. We must be accountable to self and community on our actions. We must adhere to the guidelines issued. There is a lot of work to be done and enough for everybody. We must all overcome this challenge together,” he added.