Religious Affairs Minister Reverend Godfridah Sumaili has instructed all churches in the country to be finishing their services within an hour, saying any prolonged stay in the House of God would increase the risk for believers to contract the deadly Coronavirus.

And Health Minister Dr Chitali Chilufya yesterday directed that all bars, night clubs and drinking joints will only operate for a maximum of two hours in a bid to stop the spread of the Coronavirus.

But hours after the announcement, Local Government Minister Charles Banda told journalists that following consultations with other stakeholders, the two hours restriction on night clubs and bars had been withdrawn, urging that club and disco owners would be expected to close down by at least 22:00 hours in the night, before the virus infects patrons.

Speaking during a media briefing in the company of Health Minister and other top government officials, Rev Sumaili instructed all churches to windup preaching and disperse within a recommended 30 minutes, further urging believers to avoid attending church services in large numbers.

“I want to encourage the church to continue to follow strictly the clear health instructions that the Ministry of health has given to us. Coming to the church services, we have to keep our numbers as low as possible. Let us look into that, the numbers that attend church services, let us manage to keep them as low as possible. The duration of the church service should not be more than an hour. If you get to do it in less than an hour, 30 minutes, come together fellowship and leave quickly, that will be commendable. This issue that we are dealing with is very very critical that we don’t stay together more than an hour. So, when the church service is finished we have to disperse very very quickly,” said Rev Sumaili.

“And also during this time there should be no church conferences held. But I want to urge the people of Zambia to pray; we need prayers! God has been very faithful to us; he has provided the protection let us pray in our homes; let us pray for our nation of Zambia. We need that wisdom from God on how we are going to intervene in this situation.”

Speaking earlier, Health Minister Chilufya said government had decided to reduce the hours of operation for bars and night clubs.

“I wish to announce key measures that have come into force with immediate effect in order for us to stop the spread of COVID 19 from circulating in our communities… Bars and night clubs are directed immediately to reduce operating times to a maximum of two hours. The local authorities and authorised officers will monitor compliance and revoke licences of those not complying. Human to human transmission is dependent on the contact time. Social distancing involves restricting the amount of time that we are in contact with one person to another. Restaurants are encouraged to offer take away services and minimise contact with their clients. We will only avoid transmission from human to human if we stick to the rules,” Dr Chilufya said.

Teh minister however said the country did not record any new COVID 19 infections, 24 hours after announcing the first two confirmed cases.

“Today we would like to report that there are no new cases that have been confirmed and further the two cases that tested positive are stable and are recuperating well. The other two members of the family are asymptomatic and are exhibiting no signs of disease and they are also being kept under isolation. We have taken samples of those we are following up to laboratory and so far we have not confirmed any more positive cases. Eight close contacts to the affected are currently in self quarantine and are being followed up for COVID 19,” said Dr Chilufya.

“We must emphasise that on the flight that the two confirmed cases flew on we had 82 passengers that disembarked at the Kenneth Kaunda International airport. The Zambia National for Public Health Institute under its surveillance is in touch with all the 82 passengers and we want to thank most of them for calling and keeping in touch and communicating with our surveillance officers. As we speak those who are at high risk are not only quarantined but are being closely followed up.”

But later yesterday, Banda who is in charge of regulating night club businesses said the two-hour restriction had been withdrawn.

“I am sure what has come to you is that bars would only be opened for two hours, and most of you have already been texting messages trying to find out which two hours. Apparently after consulting and discussing with my colleagues ministers, what we want to communicate is that bars will not close except what will happen is that they are going to reduce the hours of operation. We are not saying that they will be only opened for two hours; we are saying that they are going to reduce the hours of operations; for instance if people used to go up to midnight we are saying by 22:00 hours, at least they should be winding up business,”said Banda.

“Because you see, the more you stay out in such areas the more you start meeting certain people who may have nowhere to go apart from going to a bar because of the hours of the night. So it will be better that we treat this one with a lot of caution. The two hours of bars opening is not what is obtaining; what we are saying is let them operate but they should reduce the number of hours of operating.”

Minsiter of Commerce, Trade and Industry Christopher Yaluma said trading at all border posts would remain despite the threat of the virus.

And Water Development and Sanitation Minister Dr Dennis Wanchinga said the Ministry had instructed all water utility companies across the country to suspend water disconnections to households during the pandemic crisis.