Reopening faith centers: Adhere to keep our places of worship safe and open
The Bio Administration has granted permission to places of worship to open their doors effective yesterday, 13th of July 2020.
While the burden of the COVID-19 fell evenly across Sierra Leone, faith groups were forced to punctuate their practice as part of the COVID-19 preventive measure. But at a time of widespread anxiety about 'The now and The future', this announcement was a welcome opportunity to seek comfort and consolation in sacred spaces around the country.
Analysts are of the opinion that the government was persuaded that if the public is ready to re-engage in economic recovery by lifting district lockdowns and the 'lumas' in full bloom then people of faith ought to be allowed to enter places of worship. I must admit this signified a strong positive sign of a listening President following multiple consultations with the Inter-Religious Council, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Ministry of Health officials, NACOVERC officials, experts, and other stakeholders. The Presidential no objection proposal drafted by the inter-religious council covered infection prevention protocols, capacity management, social distancing, and social mobilisation amongst others.
The problem, of course, is obvious: In our packed religious centers, maintaining social distancing would be near impossible. It is important to note that large gatherings will be difficult to manage for some time particularly with the demographics in some religions and rituals such as singing which may lead to the virus spreading more freely. Sharing hymnals, prayer books and offering plates would be perfect ways to transmit a virus, as would taking communion.
The National COVID-19 Response Emergency Chief has therefore outlined the guidelines required for the enforcement of rigorous health procedures, including monitoring physical distancing and the installation of sanitation facilities at the entrances and exits of all places of worship. Houses of worship were asked to set the best example on curbing the spread of COVID-19 and all the major religious groups are preparing new health and safety protocols. Churches and Mosques have been told to limit the congregation to 50 percent of the building's capacity.
Ahem! The no objection proposal and guidelines create a perfect picture, but the Religious leaders must ensure that these guidelines are monitored and enforced. In Nigeria for example when Nigerian authorities allowed religious activities and reopen places of worship, days later, Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu rolled back its decision to partially reopen places of worship due to a spike.
Yes, we have had our shares of sorrow and pain. For most of us, our youth was foiled with images of war and destruction during the civil strife, and many of you witnessed the troubles of Ebola and the deadly mud-slide. The randomness of unexpected events are experiences we all have shared at some point. But I am very sure most Sierra Leoneans have never seen such a situation before as COVID-19, and we hope our country and the world will never witness this again. For now, we are relying on the people of faith to adhere to the guidelines to keep our places of worship safe and open.
Stay alert and safe! We don't need to have shared an exact experience with someone else to be moved, to learn, to understand and to appreciate the emotional truth about why we need to stay alert and safe.
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Yeama Sarah Thompson