Liberia: Senate Committee Break Ranks with President Over Reopening of Worship Centers
Monrovia – The Senate Committee on health has advised against President George Weah’s call for the resumption of worship services at churches and mosques across the country.
Last week, President Weah announced the resumption of services with restriction to 25% of congregation present at one time. But Senator Peter Coleman, Chair of the Senate Committee on Health told plenary that health authorities have advised against doing that because the country does not have the sophistication to monitor the churches. More importantly, experience so far from neighboring countries has shown a bad result of such action.
Said the Senator: “We are going to have large gatherings – and – if there is large gathering where people don’t respect social distancing the prospect of high transmission is high. We had a meeting with some religious groups and they are saying they don’t think their churches are ready to open. Though the President has been under pressure to allow it, the risk to the general population is high. In Ghana they lifted their restriction and since then the number of cases has gone up, we need to learn from our neighbors.”
The Senator said a lot of the church leaders are afraid to expose their congregation to the virus. “I would like the senate to look at this issue even though the political decision has been made; but there is a serious risk of high transmission.”
Senator Prince Johnson also agreed
“We are going to have large gatherings – and – if there is large gathering where people don’t respect social distancing the prospect of high transmission is high. We had a meeting with some religious groups and they are saying they don’t think their churches are ready to open. Though the President has been under pressure to allow it, the risk to the general population is high. In Ghana they lifted their restriction and since then the number of cases has gone up, we need to learn from our neighbors.”Senator Peter Coleman, Chair, Senate Committee on Health
Senator Prince Johnson, one of those at the center of controversy upon the announcement that the doors of churches should closed as part of measures to reduce the transmission, agreed with the committee that churches remain closed as a way of preventing a high risk of transmission. “I, and the people of Nimba County disagree on this announcement and want churches remain closed as was previously announced. We cannot risk our people in the name of opening churches; our body is the temple of God we can worship from home.”
Catholic churches remain closed
Meanwhile, the Catholic Archdiocese announced Thursday that all Catholic churches will remain closed. A statement issued by the most Rev. Lewis Zeigler, averred that now is not the right time to resume church services when the country’s confirm cases is as high as two hundred plus.
Bishop Zeigler has requested all Priests and priests-in-charge of parishes to delay the opening of churches in the Archdiocese of Monrovia until the end of May to allow them to monitor the reduction of COVID-19 cases in the country
211 Cases; 20 Deaths to Date
On Tuesday, May 12, Liberian President George Weah announced that places of worship are permitted to reopen from Friday, May 15. Churches, mosques, and other places of worship have been closed since Wednesday, April 8, to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
Mosques will reopen for prayers on Friday, while churches will resume their activities on Sunday, May 17. The reopening is conditioned such that services are limited to 25 percent of their usual congregations so that social-distancing protocols can be maintained.
On Friday, May 8, President George Weah announced that stay-at-home measures currently in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 would be extended by a further two weeks until Friday, May 22. The measures have been in place since Saturday, April 11, and include the compulsory wearing of face masks in public. Among other restrictions remaining in effect are a daily curfew from 15:00 to 06:00 (local time), a ban on movement between counties, and the closure of all nonessential businesses. On Friday, April 17, authorities announced the extension of the state of emergency, originally slated for 21 days, for an additional 39 days until Tuesday, May 26.
Foreign travelers are prohibited from entering Liberia and the country’s land borders with Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Cote d’Ivoire remain closed, although transportation of essential goods is exempt. Schools and universities remain shut. Authorities have urged people to minimize travel within Liberia, avoid large gatherings, and observe good personal hygiene.
As of May 12, health authorities have confirmed 211 cases of COVID-19 in Liberia, as well as 20 related deaths. Further international spread of the virus is to be expected in the near term.