By Fred Siminyu
Jinja – August 5, 2020: Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) recently proposed by the Inter-religious Council of Uganda (IRC) to guide in the safe re-opening of places of worship, have been rejected by a cross section of church leaders.
Pastor Alozious Bugingo of Kanani Land House of Prayer Ministries – Kampala and the Vicar of Wakitaka parish in Jinja, Rev Alfred Hasaya are among those who have expressed dissatisfaction with the SOPs.
Bugingo referrers to these SOPs which he alleges were blown out of proportion, as disgusting, biased, and unfair; only intended to breed hatred for the person of president Museveni.
“We ask president Museveni to disregard the SOPs by the IRC because they are misleading, and were drawn with the intention of breeding disgust and hatred for him,” he said.
The pastor wonders why arcades and taxis are operating without such strict SOPs yet the people involved are the same people who go to the places of worship.
He calls upon government to consider an immediate reopening of the places of worship but concedes that once these places are operational, there is need that they are managed in compliance with health standards as regards to prevention of the spread of Covid- 19. He adds this should not be blown out of proportions.
Likewise, the Vicar of Wakitaka parish in Jinja City, Rev Alfred Hasaya criticized the SOPs by IRC and advised that it is better to wait until at such a time when it is safe enough for all people to go to Church instead of discriminating others because of their age group.
“Children, the elderly and those with ill health are the ones that need the word of God most, hindering them from going to Church as per the SOPs of IRC is not right,” he said.
He also went ahead and rubbished the SOPs as not practical because there are no strict yardstick provided to be employed in determining the ages of those who qualify to go to Church and those who do not.
Referring to the issue of opening of Churches starting with urban areas, the Vicar said this would be contrary to God’s word, since God does not discriminate among people.
Last week, religious institutions under the IRC developed SOPs to guide the safe re-opening of places of worship and suggested that the reopening should be in a phased arrangement to ensure compliance.
They suggested that the first reopening should start with urban areas before spreading to the countryside with the first phase around the end of August for 21 days, accommodating adult and youth congregants from the age of 12 years of age.
The IRC Secretary-General, Joshua Kitakule, said that they are looking at urban areas as low-risk under the arrangement because they have well-organized places of worship with facilities and the ability to enforce desired procedures for controlling the disease.
He said that the low risk will act as a demonstration model to enable other phases of reopening.
The IRC were optimistic that after the initial 21 days, the rest of the country would be ready to reopen fully, allowing all congregants on board, probably by the end of September.
The SOPs suggest that in the event that the places of worship are reopened, every institution shall identify health professionals within their congregations or train any willing individuals in their respective congregations to form standby health teams that shall be trained to implement and enforce the guidelines.
The institutions will be required to enforce mandatory use of face masks, temperature scanning, and sanitization at entrances of places of worship and maintain social distancing of two meters from each other.
For the Muslims, during Jumu’ah or Duwa prayers, the SOPs suggest that congregants can be given disposable bags for the individual storage of shoes and other valuables.
Meanwhile, vulnerable members of the congregation, including the elderly, and those with underlying health conditions are advised to stay home and watch the services online.
Collection of gifts, offertory, tithing or any other giving should be limited to entrances while worshipers are entering or exiting the places of worship to limit contact or many people touching on the same surfaces.
In the same way, sharing written materials like Bibles, Qurans, songbooks, programs, or other written literature will also be prohibited.
In case of any case identified, the worship centres will have to link up with the area Covid-19 task force and make contact tracing easier, all congregants will be registered.
“Every place of worship should keep a register of the worshipers in attendance in a given worship service. The register should contain the names, phone contact, and area of residence of each worshiper,” the Inter-Religious Council suggests before encouraging families or those from the same locality to sit together for easy contact tracing.
In the same development, the proposed standard operating procedures point out that those places of worship will not be allowed to be used for any form of political campaigns.