As churches open for sit-in services today, police have said they will keep a close eye to ensure worshippers heed regulations that all congregants must be fully vaccinated.
This comes after the Government last week said churches could reopen on condition their members have taken both doses of Covid-19 vaccines while also abiding by other existing coronavirus protocols.
Authorities ordered the closure of churches in June this year following a spike in Covid-19 cases as a result of the Delta variant that has seen increased deaths.
In an interview with The Sunday Mail, national police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said churches should comply with the vaccination order announced by Cabinet last week.
“Churches are implored to strictly comply with the vaccination directive for congregants as stipulated by Cabinet last week. The Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) will assist health officials to ensure compliance and arrest anyone defying the safety protocols. Police will also take action against those who might try to take advantage of the directive and produce fake vaccination certificates,” said Asst Comm Nyathi.
Church leaders from across the religious divide said their members were responsible citizens and would abide by the law.
A survey by The Sunday Mail yesterday showed that some churches in Harare were preparing for the safe reopening of sit-in services by fumigating premises while others mobilised personal protective equipment (PPE).
Church leaders said they would continue engaging the medical fraternity to initiate programmes that educate church members on the benefits of Covid-19 vaccination.
Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe (ACCZ) leader Archbishop Johannes Ndanga said after a long hiatus in lockdown, the decision to resume in, person church service was welcome.
He said the decision by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Government to get people vaccinated works and was not the work of the devil.
“I implore all apostolic sects to get vaccinated and follow all regulations, vaccines have been there since time immemorial and we believe they work. We encourage all leaders under ACCZ to make sure that only the fully vaccinated members attend in-person church services and those not yet vaccinated should not expose others and themselves to Covid-19,” he said, adding that most of their members had received both the first and second jab and were happy to be returning to church.
Leader of the Inter-Religious Association for Peace and Development Zimbabwe Bishop Albert Chikuni, whose organisation seeks to unite religions to achieve sustainable development, said vaccines were the best weapon to fight Covid-19.
“The efforts that are being put by the Government to make sure every life is preserved show that we have leaders that are proactive. We will continue to play our part in making sure people have been informed and educated on the vaccines,” he said, adding that the Government was better informed in matters of health than the religious organisations.
Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHOCD) urged all churches to adhere to all safety precautions.
ZHOCD represents all four strands of the Christian community: The Zimbabwe Council of Churches, which groups the older protestant and reformed churches, the Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops Conference, the Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe, and the Union for the Development of Apostolic and Zionist Churches in Zimbabwe and Africa
“The churches cautiously appreciate the process of opening up of society, business, and public life after almost two years of restrictions because of Covid-19. Though welcome by the churches, this staggered opening of churches on the condition of being vaccinated raises both theological and practical challenges,” reads part of the ZHOCD statement released last week.
The Methodist Church in Zimbabwe said they appreciated the announcements by Cabinet and would officially open their churches on August 20, after fumigation and procurement of personal protective equipment.
Covid-19 response chief coordinator Dr Agnes Mahomva said the Government would ensure strict enforcement of regulations as churches conduct their services.
“We have said this before, people should follow protocols, and law enforcement agents will also assist to ensure that people are following the recommended measures to contain the spread of Covid-19”
She said people should not let their guard down just because they are fully vaccinated.