By Sinokuthaba Dube
More than 30 000 members of the Church of Christ Latter Day Saints in Zimbabwe today had an unusual Sunday of spending the day at home as their parent church called off services worldwide amid growing concerns over the coronavirus.
Although no case of the disease has been reported in Zimbabwe, church leaders in the country said they were following instructions from church leaders in Utah, United States of America who have suspended all worship globally following the spread of the coronavirus across many countries.
“Beginning immediately, all public gatherings of church members are being temporarily suspended worldwide until further notice.
“This includes conferences, leadership conferences and other large gatherings, all public worship services, including sacrament meetings, branch, ward and stake activities.
“Where possible, leaders should conduct any essential leadership meetings via technology. Specific questions may be referred to local priesthood leaders. Further direction related to other matters will be provided,” the church said last week.
The president of the Bulawayo Church of Christ Latter Day Saints, Mr Ngqabutho Moyo, said they were suspending services in the country following the instruction from their headquarters, although no cases of the disease have been reported in the country.
“Although there are no cases of Covid-19 recorded yet in Zimbabwe, we took this (instruction) as a revelation for the benefit of everyone since we are a global organisation which runs on revelation,” he said.
Mr Moyo said the church has more than 16 million members worldwide while in Zimbabwe they have at least 30 000 congregants and 18 branches in the Matabeleland region.
The move by the church comes a few weeks before the country joins the rest of the world to mark the Easter holiday. The Easter holiday is key among Christians and churches as they hold mass gatherings to mark and celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
In Zimbabwe one of the biggest church gatherings involve the Zion Christian Church (ZCC) who gather at Mbungo in Bikita District where an average of 40 000 church members usually meet during the Easter celebrations. However, ZCC Bishop Dr Nehemiah Mutendi said at the moment there had been no changes to the proposed gathering.
“Our calendar of events has not changed so far. If there could be any changes we will notify everyone through the media,” he said.
Apostolic Christian Council of Zimbabwe (ACCZ) president Bishop Johannes Ndanga said churches who will hold mass gatherings during Easter holidays should start registering with the Ministry of Health and Child Care notifying them of their events, in case of an outbreak of the diseases.
“As much as we consider Covid-19 a health threat, the virus cannot be a barrier to church tradition. Now that we are heading for Easter holidays, I figure it is wise that the Ministry of Health and Child Care deploys its health workers to such gatherings in a bid to prevent the spread of the virus because we cannot postpone such gatherings as it is a Bible mandate.
“I encourage fellow Christians countrywide to take this wise move and liaise with the ministry and inform them on upcoming events so that they can be tested and get advice on precautionary measures,” he said.
The latest developments come as citizens continue to be wary of the coronavirus following reports that the disease was spreading in neighbouring countries.
Yesterday Namibian Health Minister Kalumbi Shangul announced that two cases of coronavirus have been reported in the country. He said a couple from Spain who arrived in the country on Wednesday tested positive and has been quarantined.
In Eswatini, the Health Ministry also reported its first case of the virus after a 33-year-old woman, who returned from the United States at the end of last month and then travelled to Lesotho before returning home to Eswatini tested positive and has been put in isolation.
Yesterday, the number of confirmed cases in South Africa had risen to 38 and the majority of the people who tested positive to the virus had travelled to European countries. The world is grappling with the effects of the virus and by yesterday reported cases had reached 149 552 resulting in 5 604 deaths while 73 716 had recovered, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health and Child Care yesterday said Zimbabwe remains on high alert to Covid-19 and implementation of the National Preparedness and Response Plan continues with a focus on surveillance to prevent importation of the disease from countries that have confirmed cases.
It added that people must remain calm and must not be misled by unofficial reports that can cause panic. The ministry also advised that those at high risk of Covid-19 exposure are travellers returning from affected regional and international locations where there are confirmed cases of the disease, and that the risk to those who had not travelled to affected areas was low.
Older people and people with pre-existing health conditions such as Heart Disease, Diabetes and Lung disease are at risk of severe Covid-19 illness. Citizens, the ministry added, must continue practising hygiene and avoid unnecessary travel to and from countries with confirmed cases. Sunday News