Lagos opens churches, mosques June 19, cuts attendance to 40% - NEW TELEGRAPH
BY Muritala Ayinla
After weeks of closure, mosques and churches in Lagos State will come alive again from June 19 and 21 respectively as Governor Babajide Sanwo- Olu yesterday approved the re-opening of worship centres. But the governor said only worshippers with face marks will be allowed access to churches and mosques, while the congregation must not exceed 500 with other safety measures in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the state. The governor also limited worship periods to only Fridays and Sundays, pending when the current situation is reviewed, adding that persons below age 15 or above age 65 should be excused from worship centres. The governor said worship centres must consider the option of virtual platform for members below 15 years and above 65 years.
Officiating priests above 65 years are exempted, but they must maintain appropriate social distance from the congregants. Specifically, from June 19, Muslims can congregate for Jummat service only, while from June 21, Christian worshippers are allowed to open churches only for Sunday services.
Daily vigils and other extra-religious activities remained prohibited. However, all the permitted religious activities must be conducted within the ambit of a set of new protocols for organised gathering. Giving an update on the management of coronavirus, Sanwo-Olu said that mass gathering could constitute a serious threat to lives during COVID-19 scourge, adding that there are documented evidences that convergence of large gathering can increase the spread of the virus. Sanwo-Olu said: “As we all know, mass gathering during COVID-19 pandemic can have serious public health consequences. And there are documented evidence that mass gathering can increase the spread of the virus.
“That is why we will from 14 days’ time, precisely from the 19th of June for our Muslim worshippers, from the 21st of June for our Christian worshipers, be allowing all of our religious bodies to open at the maximum of 40 per cent of their capacity.
“We know that these places of worship have different sizes, but even if your 40 per cent capacity is really so large, you cannot have beyond 500 and keeping that 40 per cent maximum capacity is really, really so important. “We will be encouraging people to have more than one service and to ensure that they keep their premises clean, disinfect before another round of worship can take place. “These eased measures must be accompanied by physical distancing, mandatory temperature checks, use of face masks and strong personal hygiene.”
He added: “We’ll also be advising that there should only be mandatory Fridays and Sunday services, all other night vigils and order regular services must be put on hold for now, until we review our current situation. “We will also be advising very strongly those persons below the age of 15 and the citizens that are above the age of 65 should not be allowed into these places of worship. We believe that the age brackets are extremely vulnerable.” The governor directed that houses of worship must also maintain a “no face mask, no entry” policy throughout the duration of their activities.
Periodic cleaning and disinfection of facilities, the governor said, must be carried out on these religious facilities in line with public health guideline of the state. He said: “Crowd capacity must be limited to no more than 40 per cent of the approved occupancy limit of religious centres by the state government, with a maximum limit of 500 people irrespective of the size of the religious centre. We strongly advise members of the congregation to avoid food offerings (communion) when it is being shared from common dishes. “Also, sharing of kettles during ablution is strictly prohibited.
The decision to proceed, restrict, modify, postpone or cancel a worship service after a thorough risk assessment solely lies with the state government. All places of worship must nominate a person who would liaise with the state government to obtain a safety clearance for their premises.”
To ensure compliance, the governor said that the Lagos State Safety Commission will not only register, but will be going round to check the level of compliance, adding that the state government has the discretion to stop or restrict worship where there is no compliance.
Sanwo-Olu said primary and secondary schools will remain shut because government is still consulting with all stakeholders in the sector and will come up with guidelines for their reopening in two weeks’ time and that the on-line classes for tertiary institutions continue. The governor added that hotels and hospitality businesses are also free to open while restaurants will be open for take-away services only. However, gyms, spas, cinemas, event centres, night clubs and all other such services remain closed and cross-state journeys remain banned, the governor said.
They are mandated to register with Lagos State Safety Commission (LSSC) under the Register-to-Open Initiative via registration portal, www.lasgsafetyreg. com, where they will obtain safety clearance before their opening date will be announced. Houses of worship are, however, exempted from LSSC registration and clearance, but their activities will be duly monitored by the safety agency. The governor said only social clubs with registered trustees and verifiable governance structure would be permitted to re-open in two weeks’ time.
Unstructured social clubs and event centres are not permitted to open for now, the governor ordered. The governor admonished Lagosians to wear face mask always, saying the level of compliance on wearing of face mask was not encouraging, adding: “Let us self-regulate ourselves, regulate your conduct or government will regulate you.”
On workers who had earlier been told to work from home, the governor said as from next Monday, civil servants on levels 13- 14 can resume with their senior colleagues on level 15 and above, while levels 1-12 should wait. To address transportation challenges worsened by the restriction of commercial motorcycles and tricycles, Sanwo-Olu also disclosed that government will deploy 570 buses on the BRT corridor on various routes next week and that the buses are being cleared from the port.
All other guidelines are as announced by Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Monday, June 1 and they include: curfew from 10p.m. to 4a.m., full re-opening of banks and other financial institutions, offices and business places to operate from 7a.m to 6p.m. He added that manufacturing companies were permitted to do night shift, but to make arrangement for movement of staff.