COUNCIL of Churches in Zambia (CCZ) general secretary Fr Emmanuel Chikoya has expressed concern that government officials are endangering Zambians’ lives by holding mass gatherings against the COVID-19 prevention guidelines.

And Fr Chikoya has advised CCZ members to ensure that they do not gather for smaller church meetings, but conduct them remotely via social media platforms as the Church leadership continues to find safer ways of conducting spiritual activities.

In an interview, Fr Chikoya said it was difficult for people to take government’s health guidance on COVID-19 seriously when the leaders themselves were not practicing what they preached.

“We are concerned as the Church about the current happenings and, of course, we will have to reflect and give guidance to our members sooner than later on this matter. But we are very concerned about the seemingly over-relaxation of the COVID-19 preventive measures by the government, which has led to this current situation where the number of cases are skyrocketing! So, this is a source of concern, especially that the leaders in government should give a good example. But with the way our leaders and their entourages have been visiting places and conducting rallies without observing any social distancing, as the Church, we express our strongest worry because it sends a message that, ‘it is okay’,” Fr Chikoya said.

“It means, therefore, that if our leaders are gathering, then we should follow their example and not what they are telling us. So, that’s the unfortunate part of all this. But I think we will be able to update the country and our members in terms of our limitations and what we are working on so that the necessary steps can be taken to ensure the safety of all our members. But we should not take COVID-19 for granted. We call for people to stick to the highest levels of hygiene and we must make sure that we avoid unnecessary crowding, including funerals; we should be able to really avoid sleeping in crowds. We should avoid situations where people sleep crowded in a small room; we have to mourn our departed, yes, but the new normal is that we have to mourn differently.”

Fr Chikoya asked CCZ members to ensure that they avoided unnecessary gatherings as the Church leadership sought safer ways to conduct prayers and other religious activities.

“The way we conduct our church services, obviously, also need to be relooked; we may have to get to a place where we have to discourage public gatherings and encourage smaller programmes through social media and other platforms and these are things that people should not wait for, they should be able to look at the situation and immediately act because if you love your members, you should be able to take the required measures to protect them. Everybody should be protected. To love one another means I should mask up, wash my hands and follow all the guidelines. We are in a very challenging time, but we have to learn to live with these challenges. We need to intensify our sanitation hygiene and be very strict at funerals and where we need to cancel events like weddings and other gatherings, let us just cancel and ensure that we protect lives and this is exactly what we are trying to do as church leaders,” Fr Chikoya said.

Meanwhile, he asked Health Minister Dr Chitalu Chitalu Chilufya to practice what he preached and follow all health guidelines if he wanted total cooperation and seriousness from the public.

“We are concerned that on one hand, we are being told to stay at home and avoid crowds, while on the other hand, we see the very person who is at the forefront of leading the fight against COVID-19 breaking those same guidelines. We seriously call to him that he is out of order. Yes, everybody else can do something else, but he should make sure that such things aren’t done by him. He should not be involved in such situations where there are so many cadres around him with no social distancing! Let’s walk the talk, stop saying one thing and then doing another thing. We are fed up with this approach where you expect people to cooperate and follow guidelines, which you break with impunity yourselves,” complained Fr Chikoya.

“Leaders are just sending a wrong message to us. All those arranging the Presidential programmes and the like, they are sending the wrong message to the people of Zambia. Let’s stop that and just provide proper leadership. At the moment, we have a situation where people are saying, ‘yes we hear you, but how come? Is Coronavirus only for us or it’s affecting everybody?’ Even when, for example, you have a COVID-related death, whether in government or not, the strict COVID-19 guidelines should be followed. But if we are going to allow crowds and that kind of arrangement at funeral homes, we are telling ordinary people, also, when they have funerals to also follow our example. So, these are serious concerns where, unfortunately, our leaders are not helping us. But when we are in leadership, we need to be very clear and make everything extremely clear.”