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Religious Leaders Develop Procedures for Reopening Places of Worship

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They are suggesting that the first phase of the reopening should be around the end of August for 21 days accommodating adult and youth congregants, from the age of 12. The first reopening should start with urban areas before spreading to the countryside, according to proposals that were presented to the National COVID-19 Task Force.
West Buganda Diocesan Bishop Katumba Tamale preaching in an empty church on Easter. Places of worship have remained closed since mid-March

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Religious institutions under the Inter-Religious Council of Uganda have developed Standard Operating Procedures-SOPs to guide the safe re-opening of places of worship. 

Borrowing a leaf from neighbouring Kenya and Rwanda which have already announced the gradual resumption of congregational worship in churches, synagogues, and mosques, the religious institutions suggest that reopening can be in a phased arrangement to ensure compliance. 

They are suggesting that the first phase of the reopening should be around the end of August for 21 days accommodating adult and youth congregants, from the age of 12. The first reopening should start with urban areas before spreading to the countryside, according to proposals that were presented to the National COVID-19 Task Force. 

“These SOPs suggest health precautions and protocol measures that places of worship should adopt in reopening to celebrate, officiate, and run their activities without providing opportunities for COVID-19 infections to grow and spread,” the document reads. 

Joshua Kitakule, the IRCU Secretary-General says that they are looking at urban areas as low-risk under the arrangement because they have better-organized places of worship, with facilities and the ability to enforce desired procedures for controlling the disease. He says that the low risk will act as a demonstration model to enable other phases of opening. 

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The religious leaders are optimistic that after the initial 21 days, the rest of the country will be ready to reopen fully, allowing all congregants on board, probably by the end of September. 

They further 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 places of worship will not be allowed to be used for any form of political campaigns. 

Kitakule notes they have tasked different religious institutions to come up with customized procedures in unique areas which the general manual couldn’t capture. He says that if the training on the SOPS goes smoothly then there is no reason why places of worship shouldn’t open in August. 

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However, the proposed SOPs are subject of the decision from the Ministry of Health and the National COVID-19 task force.   The Archbishop of the Church of Uganda the Most Rev. Dr Stephen Kazimba Mugalu notes that although the council has submitted their proposals they are not coercing the government given the fact that the dynamics of the pandemic are now unclear, following a series of deaths in recent days.

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But Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng is optimistic that the two sides will have an understanding in the near future.    

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Religious leaders are of the view that places of worship play a central role in providing spiritual, psychological, and emotional healing and nourishment to people, especially during such unprecedented times when everybody seems to be living in uncertainty.

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