There are rumors the Zambian president has directed that churches open in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. State House (Zambian Government House) has, however, “clarif[ied] that His Excellency, Dr. Edgar Chagwa Lungu, President of the Republic of Zambia, has not directed churches to open. In his address to the nation on Friday, the President said; ‘I have decided that some activities such as the following may continue being undertaken normally subject to adhering to public health regulations, guidelines and certification…”
Africa, Zambia, included, is, of all continents, the least prepared and the least-resourced to fight the coronavirus (Covid-19). Zambia is not capable of fighting the pandemic. There are not enough, equipped hospitals. There are less well-trained specialized physicians. There is no SafetyNet to provide healthcare and treatment. And there are not enough Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and ventilators to aid in the combat against Covid-19, should it invade Zambia full throttle. The best remedy to Covid-19 in Zambia is prevention. Nothing more.
Through social distancing, closure of worship centres, closure of contact businesses and sports and any such similarly-situated activities, the nation will be better placed than otherwise to defeat the pandemic. The disease has not reached its apex in Zambia – and this is the best time to take all necessary precautions to limit its spread. Coronavirus is already in Zambia, and that is the danger of it. That once it comes, it can only be stopped by either people not coming in contact or by people knowing their statuses so that they can either self-isolate or be quarantined. A church, a congregation, provides contact or proximal association for people. It is by design a breeding ground for the spread of Covid-19. It does not take revelation or rocket science to know this. And the Government of Zambia knows this very well. To make matters worse, Zambian churches may not have enough masks, available water sources and enough sanitary disinfectants to brace against the communalism of more than fifty persons in one place.
The president may be ill-advised, or even threatened by some religious figures that God would not allow His people to be infected because of Bible injunctions that inform on drinking poison and not dying. Such would be misinterpretation and misunderstanding of Scriptures. The president could, similarly, have been influenced by political or religious figures in Zambia who depend on the goodwill and the congregation of the people to collect offerings, which due to Covid-19 restrictions, may be running out. Such reasoning may be reasonable, but is inimical to the wellbeing and good health of the people. The danger of leaving churches open is that it will expose widely the entire nation to Covid-19, not only to those who will be congregating. People in those meetings will infect each other and then take the infection further to other people they will interact with in mini-buses, marketplaces and homes.
The Zambian government should act boldly, resolutely and decisively and stop all church meetings of a certain number. But it should also provide short-term financial relief to pastors and priests in full-time employment. Pastors and priests should also act wisely and creatively and invent smart ways of continuing preaching and collecting some money from their congregation. But there is a caveat: Don’t collect money from people who have no financial sources of income during the Covid-19 pandemic. Some churches should consider meeting the payroll needs of some of their smaller branches through the saving reserves they have amassed in good, non-Covid-19 pandemic times.
No government should foolishly subject its people to the pandemic. No church leader should demand physical meetings during this time. Prayer for the pandemic to end should continue in homes and online. Covid-19 shall surely end, with God’s intervention as well as through the intelligence of science. But until then, church building-gatherings should remain closed to the public.
By Charles Mwewa