First, many religious leaders modified their rituals, hoping to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease. Now, some are taking more drastic measures, cancelling worship services, closing religious schools and shuttering holy sites.
This week, the Catholic Church has announced that it is closing all its churches in Zimbabwe with immediate effect in an effort to help curb the outspread of Covid-19.
In a statement, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference (ZCBC) said it had resolved to close all Catholic churches for public liturgical services and church-related gatherings with immediate effect until further notice to allow for effective self-isolation for all.
However, the ZCBC said
“all Priests should, however, continue to celebrate mass in their parishes without a congregation on a daily basis. The continuing celebration of mass ensures that the faithful can join in spiritual communion with the priests of the church”.
The Catholic bishops said they wanted their congregants to understand that the coronavirus pandemic was an emergency circumstance and that for as long as it lasted, the obligation to attend mass on Sundays and Holy Days was removed.
They said they would not be conducting pastoral visits to those who are isolating, but if need be, they would offer support via the phone.
“Let us leave burials to close family members and associates, even for clergy and religious, in this season of the pandemic, which we pray will be short,” the ZCBC said.
For many spiritual leaders, the decision to shut their doors is difficult. Religious rituals are meant to be enacted, soul and body, traditionally alongside other believers, albeit the present dangers of the deadly virus are too great to ignore.
The ZCBC’s stance comes just a few days after the government barred gatherings of over 50 people in an unprecedented step to halt the spread of the coronavirus. The latest directive makes it impossible for churches to congregate as they usually host hundreds of people for services.
On Monday, President Emmerson Mnangagwa declared the country’s borders closed for both inbound and outbound traffic except cargo and returning residents as well as announced that bars, gymnasiums, swimming pools and movie houses were being shut down until further notice.
He said the measures were with immediate effect.
“While our borders remain open to essential traffic, both in the interests of our economy and that of corresponding economies in our region, we have decided to ban non-essential travel and traffic, both inbound or outbound except for the movement of cargo. The government will close all our borders to human traffic. This, however, will not affect returning residents,”
the Zimbabwean leader said in an address to the nation.
Returning residents “will be subjected to strict screening procedures”, Mnangagwa said, which includes “a rigorous enforcement of a one-day self-quarantine which must not be breached for whatever reason.”
HE said his government was discouraging non-essential travel within the country, adding that social visits to relatives and friends should be avoided.
He went on:
“With immediate effect, the government has put a blanket ban on gatherings around nightclubs, bars, beerhalls, movie houses, swimming pools, gymnasiums and sporting activities until further notice.”
The Pres. said the measures “will be hard on all of us, but such tough measures will become necessary for our collective safety.”
Hospital visits will be restricted to once a day, and only one visitor would be allowed per patient, he said.
HE said informal markets would remain open, but health personnel would be deployed to conduct random screening while public transport vehicles had to undergo “occasional decontamination.”
So far, Zimbabwe has confirmed three cases of the coronavirus, with one fatality recorded, according to the health ministry (Tuesday, Mar. 24).
Globally, the virus has infected 471,794 people and killed 21,297, as of Thursday morning, according to Worldometers.com, a site that provides live statistical updates about the virus.
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