With Ghanaian institutions including schools and places of worship set to resume their public activities starting Friday, June 5, the country’s President Nana Akufo-Addo has appealed to religious leaders in the West African country to use their first day of worship to pray for the nation.
In a televised address to the nation on measures taken against the spread of COVID 19 on May 31, the President said a consensus had been arrived following consultations to “embark on a strategic, controlled, progressive, safe easing of restrictions to get our lives and economy back to normal.”
He added, “I would appeal to them, in the case of Christians… to dedicate their worship to prayers for the nation in these challenging times.”
President Akufo-Addo went on to list the order in which the various places of worship will be reopen for public gathering starting with Muslims on Friday, June 5, followed by Adventists on Saturday, June 6 and finally Christians on Sunday, June 7.
He said that June 5 would mark the beginning of stage one of the process of easing restrictions.
“As I stated in my May Day address, a month ago, I am now in a position to outline the roadmap for easing safely the restrictions. Ours is going to be a phased approach, involving a selected list of public gatherings, based on their risk profile, socio-economic impact, and, most importantly, our capacity to enforce and to respond, in the event of a flare up in our number of infections,” he said.
According to President Akufo-Addo, 25 percent attendance, with a maximum number of one hundred (100) congregants, can worship at a time in church or at the mosque, with a mandatory one-meter rule of social distancing between congregants.
In addition, the wearing of masks for all persons at all times in churches and mosques will be mandatory, the 76-year-old President said and a register of names and contact details of all worshippers will need to be kept.
Hand washing facilities and sanitizers must be provided, with a maximum duration of one hour for each service.
He noted that religious institutions that are desirous of opening their premises to their members, such as churches, mosques and others, must disinfect, fumigate and put in place the requisite logistics needed to guarantee safe opening and operation and must work with the designated, regulatory bodies and undertake test runs of the outlined protocols.
On May 7, leaders of Christian Churches in Ghana had expressed readiness to effectively control the spread of the virus should the ban on public gatherings be lifted any time by the President of the West Africa nation.
“The Church being a major stakeholder is indispensable in the State’s overall COVID-19 containment and mitigation strategies,” said the Heads of the Christian Ecumenical Bodies in a document that outlined modalities and guidelines to mitigate the spread of the virus should the ban on public gathering be lifted by the government.
They said that 71 percent of Ghanaians identify as Christian and underscored the need for the church with its wide social network, access to communities, captive audience, unquestioned authority, and influential actors of public support for government measures to support the government by educating, counselling and sustaining the masses.
The country has recorded at least 8,297 cases of COVID-19; there have been 38 coronavirus related deaths; and over 2,985 have recovered from the disease.
Following the President’s announcement on May 31, Ghana’s Minister for Chieftaincy and Religious Affairs, Kofi Dzamesi outlined government’s safety protocols in preparation for reopening of places of worship.
At a late-night Press briefing Monday, June 1, the Minister enumerated the measures religious groups must take to ensure safety protocols before, during and after public worship.
The provision of thermometer guns, insisting on wearing masks and regular sanitization of microphones and other equipment are among the guidelines.
Other guidelines include training and provision of personal protective equipment to protocol officers, adequate ventilation and prohibition of group singing, dancing and waving of handkerchiefs.
The 23 guidelines read in part,
“Older people and people with underlying medical conditions should stay away from church for now,” the Minister has outlined and added, “Sunday schools and Children’s services are to remain closed for now.”
Churches leaders will also be required to create separate sitting areas for those who are fairly old, according to the set of guidelines.
Touching on education in his nationwide address on May 31, President Akufo-Addo announced that from June 15, the decision had been taken to re-open schools and universities to allow for final year junior high, senior high and university students to resume classes ahead of the conduct of their respective exit examinations.
“All final year students of educational and training institutions, which are being managed by Ministries other than the Education Ministry, are to return to school on 15th June to complete their exit examinations,” he said.
Safety protocols to observe in reopening of schools in Ghana will include fumigation of the learning institutions, provision of reusable face masks and ensuring that non-final year classes remain closed.
The decision to ease the public gatherings protocol has, however, been met with mixed reactions from Ghanaians.
Sharing his view with ACI Africa correspondent, Prof. Elias Sowley, Chairman of the National Laity Council in Ghana said, “I think it is a good step. Churches and Mosques with large congregations can split into groups of 100 and conduct many possible prayer sessions but with strict observance of the protocols and staying with the time limit of one hour.”
On her part, Mrs. Doris Ashun, General Manager of Catholic Schools said, “I would have preferred re-opening of schools to be held on a later date as COVID-19 cases keep rising.”
She added, “Students would have to travel from all over the country to go to school. Will the preparations be ready in all schools by the time they arrive? But now that a date has been given for the opening, let’s all put our hands behind the wheel and help out.”
Mrs Ashun appealed to students and teachers who are to handle the students to observe all protocols given as well as be each other’s keeper and to continually remind themselves about doing the right thing to stay safe.