After months of being shut down, the Lagos State Government has approved the full reopening of worship centres in the state.
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, announced this during a briefing in the state on Saturday.
According to him, churches are now allowed to observe their mid-week services, while the mosques are also allowed to carry out their five times a day prayer routine, with strict compliance to COVID-19 safety protocols.
“We must not forget that the coronavirus pandemic is still very much with us, and we must, therefore, strive to prioritize the safety of all our children, teachers, parents, and the entire society,” the governor said.
Before now, the state had allowed for a gradual re-opening of places of worship as lockdowns eased.
With the full re-opening now, the governor has urged Lagosians to continue to act responsibly and maintain the required levels of hygiene.
Some other parts of the world have witnessed a resurgence of COVID-19 infections and rising possibilities of “hard lockdowns”, which according to Governor Sanwo-Olu may become inevitable for Nigerians if caution is not applied.
“Let me make it clear that if we do not continue to maintain our guard, and sustain the adherence to all required protocols and guidelines, we will find ourselves in a situation where fresh lockdowns are inevitable,” he warned.
“The only way to avoid this is to continue to act responsibly: maintain the required levels of hygiene, through regular handwashing and use of sanitizers, wear masks in all public places, avoid non-essential public gatherings, and maintain the prescribed levels of physical distancing at all times”.
The total infections in the country have now risen to 56,956, with 48,305 patients recovered and 1,094 deaths recorded.
At the onset of the virus in Nigeria, Lagos became the epicenter, gapping other states with its case load despite frantic efforts to curb the spread.
However, in recent times, other states such as Plateau have started to witness a surge with the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 stating that it might become the new epicenter in the country.
The Lagos State Government has stopped the reopening of worship centers initially scheduled for Friday, June 19 (mosques) and Sunday, June 21 (churches).
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu announced the decision at a press briefing on Tuesday.
According to him, the development became necessary as a result of the rising cases of COVID-19 in the state.
“Dear Lagosians, in the most recent guidelines which we issued on the gradual easing of the lockdown, based on the advice of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, I noted that we would shortly be permitting the restricted opening of religious houses, on the condition of strict compliance with detailed guidelines issued by the Lagos State Safety Commission.
“We have been closely monitoring the situation since then, and have now concluded that we cannot proceed with any form of re-opening for places of worship in Lagos State, until further notice,” Sanwo-Olu said.
“This is not a decision that we have taken lightly, it is simply in line with our 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.
“So, let me say this again: we are now hereby suspending, with immediate effect, the plan to re-open religious houses and places of worship in Lagos State, until further notice. We will continue to monitor the situation closely, and continue to base our decision-making on data modelling; as well as on the responsibility we have to act in a manner that ensures the protection of all of you the people of Lagos State.
“Therefore, until further notice, all places of worship in Lagos State will remain closed. Social and events centers, and social clubs, will also remain closed, for now,” he added.
On Monday, Nigeria recorded 573 new coronavirus infections, bringing the total number of cases in the country to 16,658.
Of the new infections, Lagos reported the highest figure with 216 new cases, bringing the total number of cases in the state to 7,319.
Consequently, the state has remained the epicentre of infections in the country, closely followed by the FCT with 1,264 and Kano state with 1,158.
To curb further spread of the virus, the Federal Government had in March, imposed a lockdown on the three majorly affected states at the time (Lagos, Ogun State and the FCT).
Subsequently, other states began to impose varying degrees of curfews and governors eventually agreed on interstate lockdowns as they began to record new infections.
But weeks after the federal government-imposed lockdown, President Muhammadu Buhari announced again that there would be a gradual easing of the lockdown in order to allow economic activities resume as the country could not sustain an extended period of economic inactivity.
While essential workers and other levels of workers have been allowed to resume so far, the government has still appealed to those who can afford to stay at home, to do so.
Reducing interpersonal contacts and maintaining social distancing of up to 2-3 meters is said to be one of the ways to curb the spread of the virus but that in itself has proven to be a difficult task for most Nigerians.
Other measures to stay safe include sneezing or coughing into your elbow, washing of hands regularly, use of alcohol-based sanitizers and wearing of face masks.
While most businesses have been allowed to resume with strict adherence to the above measures, schools, cinemas, clubs and other places of mass social gatherings remain shut.
However, on June 1, the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 lifted the ban on religious gatherings in the country.
While the PTF had said it does not recommend that people resume at places of worship, it noted that if they have to, they must adhere strictly to the guidelines, some of which include the mandatory use of face masks by worshippers and provision of handwashing spots at the entrances.
Also, the use of hand sanitizers with at least sixty per cent alcohol content and mandatory temperature checks was advised.
The PTF also mandated that facilities be structured in a way that physical distancing can be observed and as much as possible, congregants avoid activities such a hugging, shaking or kissing.
In addition, it noted that church/mosque volunteers (ushers, choir, security etc) that have underlying illnesses should not be allowed to serve, while the time for worship services should not be more than one hour.
Following the announcement, states began to lift the ban placed on worship centers.
In Lagos State, the governor on June 4, announced that worship centers could reopen but limit the capacity of persons per time to 40%.
For larger worship centers, he said the maximum of attendees should be 500 persons per time.
The reopening was to commence on June 21 for churches and June 19 for mosques.