Cautious approach – The Nation

  • Lagos State’s postponement of reopening of worship centres is in public interest

Many believers were, no doubt, disappointed when the Lagos State government reversed its decision to reopen “religious houses and places of worship” in the state, which had been closed as a safety measure to check the spread of COVID-19. But the disappointment could prove to be a blessing. Not a few believers also agree and even are relieved.

Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said the reversal was based on “ongoing evaluation of evolving scenarios regarding the course of the infection in Lagos State and the corresponding public health advisory guidelines issued by the experts.” He observed that the state “continues to be the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria, with about 44% of the total number of confirmed cases nationwide.”

At the time the governor announced the extension of the temporary closure “until further notice” on June 16, Lagos State had recorded 7,319 confirmed cases of COVID-19.  Of this number, 1,137 had recovered and been discharged; 82 had died, leaving 6,100 active cases under management in the state. Sadly, the governor said more tests would likely expose more positive cases because the disease was at a community transmission stage.

Against this background, it was reasonable to review the planned reopening of places of worship in the state from June 19. It is a measure of the severity of the coronavirus crisis that the state government came to the conclusion that the precautionary conditions it had attached to the reopening of churches and mosques could not guarantee safety.

Among the conditions were that reopened religious centres should operate at maximum of 40 per cent of their membership and must not have an attendance exceeding 500 persons at a single service; children below the age of 15 and adults above the age of 65 should not be in attendance “because those within that age bracket are extremely very vulnerable to the pandemic.”

The conditions also included only Sunday services for churches and Friday Jumat for mosques; vigils and other weekly services were disallowed.

Churches and mosques were to carry out regular fumigation of their premises and keep clean premises; they were also to provide soap and water, thermometer and hand sanitiser; worshippers must wear face masks, wash their hands properly or use hand sanitiser.

Obviously, not all the numerous places of worship in the state have the coping capacity required in the circumstances. This explains why the state government added that the Lagos State Safety Commission would register religious centres before they could reopen, and continuously monitor their compliance with the safety guidelines.  The suspension of the reopening plan suggests that the state government may well need to redesign the reopening model.

Indeed, the situation calls for caution. It is understandable that the state government is being cautious. The postponement of normal activities at religious centres reflects its sense of responsibility.

According to the governor, “We are now fully in the phase of personal responsibility, regarding this pandemic. This means that, while the government maintains its responsibility to take protective decisions for the common good, what will ultimately save us all and defeat this virus are the sensible personal decisions that we take on a daily basis.”

The importance of individual responsibility cannot be overemphasised when community transmission has been identified as a major cause of rising COVID-19 infections. This is certainly not a good time for mass gathering, which is normal at places of worship.

“Decisions to use masks anytime you are out of your house, to avoid non-essential travel, to stay at home when we don’t have any business being outside, to wash or sanitise our hands regularly – these are the simple but necessary steps that will save and protect us all,” the governor counselled. This advice underlines why it was necessary to suspend the plan to reopen churches and mosques. It was a sensible decision and circumstantially correct.

The coronavirus pandemic is a matter of life and death. Any situation that could encourage the spread of COVID-19 should be discouraged. The cautious approach adopted by Lagos State is a good example.

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