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Churches record low turnout, Nigerians stock up as Covid-19 cases hit 30

…Social life in Abuja seems unaffected  

The Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) on Sunday announced that there are now 30 confirmed cases of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the country.

With the rising cases of coronavirus in the country, many state governments, including Lagos, had as at Friday issued directives limiting social gatherings to about 50 persons.

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In response, most Catholic churches in Lagos were shut on Sunday as no Masses were held. BusinessDay gathered that this was in response to a circular from the Archdiocesan secretariat that Masses be suspended for four weeks.

Many others churches where services were held, the congregational gatherings were reduced to reflect the directive of the state government.

In Ojo area of the state where BusinessDay monitored, branches of different churches including the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), The Apostolic Church Nigeria (TACN), Petal of Love Envangelical Ministries (POLEM), Assemblies of God, Celestial Church of Christ, among others, recorded low attendance while others had their services split to accommodate less worshipers at a time.

It was also observed that worship sessions in various churches visited were brief as members were seen going home as early 10:30 after commencing services from 9:00am.

Most churches around Alapere, a suburb of Lagos, obeyed the government directive.
Streets that were usually blocked because of worshippers that park their cars on both sides of the roads were all empty as very few people came for worship service.

The stretch between Ojota Bridge and Ketu that always experienced logjam on Sundays, especially for those going towards Ketu-Mile 12 from Ojota, was very free.

At the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Breakthroughs Chapel, Alapere, there were different services of 20 people in each group.

Meanwhile, Primero Transport Services Limited, operator of the Lagos Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) scheme, says it is reducing the number of passengers on board its buses to 50, a measure aimed at containing the Covid-19 pandemic.

BusinessDay had on Thursday raised concerns about the number of passengers being conveyed in BRT buses, which ply majorly Ikorodu-12 Mile-CMS routes amid increasing cases of Covid-19 in Nigeria’s commercial city.

Fola Tinubu, managing director, Primero Transport Services Limited, said on Sunday that the company was complying with the government directive restricting social gatherings to less than 50 people.

“We have reduced the maximum number of customers allowed on the bus to 50 or less. This translates to 42 passengers seating and 8 standing. We are appealing to all our commuters to work with our staff and cooperate with our ticketers to ensure that we keep the passenger numbers at the recommended limits,” Tinubu said.

In Abuja, many churches witnessed perhaps one of their lowest turnouts. While some worship centres were filled to capacity, many worshippers did not attend church service due to fear of the outbreak. The pews were empty in some of the churches visited. It was gathered that offering and tithes dropped drastically.

At the Living Faith Church Katamkpe, one of the worshippers who did not want her name in print told BusinessDay that many people avoided service because of the social distance prescription.

“This church used to be filled to the brim but you can see that as much as 40 percent of the worshippers had failed to come for service,” she said.

The same was observed at Living Faith Church in Jikwoyi, Abuja.

St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Karu, one of the biggest parishes in Abuja, recorded low turnout in both the first and second Masses. The practice of shaking hands as a sign of peace was jettisoned.

Joy Aernan, a worshipper at St. Donald’s Catholic Church, FHA Karu, said she did not go to church because she was afraid of being infected with coronavirus.

“On normal Sundays, I don’t miss Mass, but today, I did not go because there was information that three persons were confirmed with coronavirus in Abuja. Even though I love God, I cannot take such risk,” she said.

In some churches where service was in full swing, the congregants were made to use hand sanitisers before entrance.

The 50,000-capacity Dunamis International Auditorium, Airport Road, was filled with worshipers in the three services. However, hand sanitisers were compulsorily used while the general overseer, Paul Enenche, who is a medical doctor, sensitised the congregation on safety measures.

In virtually all parts of Abuja, including the highbrow Maitama, Asokoro, Wuse, Garki, Utako and Jabi areas, among others, churches were filled with worshippers as if they were not mindful of the coronavirus outbreak.

Some of the worshipers explained that they went to church because they had faith that none of the church members would be allowed by God to be infected with the virus.

In FCT Area Council, many churches scaled down service time, while also introducing safety measures to protect members. Churches in the FCT are shifting to intensify Home Cell Service, Small Prayer Cells and Whatsapp Prayer Groups preparatory to a possible enforcement of ban on public gathering.

The new arrangements may see members of the same church come together in smaller groups to meet in designated places to hold service, until further notice.

But adoption of precautions relating to social distancing is still low as people were still seen crammed in commercial vehicles and markets in Nyanya and the neighbouring Maraba in Nasarawa State.

The popular markets like Wuse and Utako located at the central part of the town were extremely busy at the weekend as shoppers trooped to stock up in case of a sudden lockdown. Prices of commodities have also jumped as demand soared as expected.

Shopping malls were also extremely busy. Sanitisers and face masks have disappeared from the shelves like the first day the Italian index case was announced.

FCT residents continued with their normal social lifestyles of unwinding, in crowd mode, against social distancing advisory measures.

A visit to Vocano Night Club located in Gwarimpa area of Abuja, Saturday, showed that night life was not abating as both men and women were seen unwinding freely, shaking hands and hugging simultaneously.
The Kuje market was a beehive of activities as residents of the area council carried out last-minute shopping to stock essential goods including foodstuffs.

But in Nyanya, a suburb of Abuja, the usually boisterous viewing centres where residents converge in large numbers to watch European football matches were all deserted over the weekend. Most of the centres were shut as matches, especially in the popular English Premiership, have been postponed as part of measures to curb the pandemic.

In Port Harcourt, the capital of Rivers State, the response to the coronavirus panic seems to be slow as most persons still freely hug and offer handshakes. Anyone who withdraws his hand is taunted as a ‘fear-fear’ man (someone too jittery). There has, however, been no case reported in the state so far, thus citizens have remained quiet so far.

Church services went on normally in all churches in Port Harcourt but caution seemed to rule the waves. Attendance was reportedly scanty in most big churches.

The Catholic Cathedral in Port Harcourt (Kaduna Street) was scanty. The church authority insisted on only four persons per row instead of seven. Others were made to climb to vacant places up and down at the back, according to parishioners who went to 10am church service.

In Ibadan, Oyo State capital, where the government made the closure of worship centres and religious gatherings voluntary, it was a mixed bag as some churches did not comply with the 50-people limit while some complied as they resorted to fellowships of between five and 10 people at a time.

Peeved with the situation in Abuja on Sunday, Patrick O. Okigbo III took to social media to decry what he tagged irresponsibility of church leaders.

“I rode past Holy Trinity Cathedral Abuja this morning and the church was in full session. Further down the road, ECWA was in session. You already know that COZA was in full session today. On the stretch to my home, the small church that recently moved from a makeshift structure to the uncompleted house was in full session as well. This is grossly irresponsible and stupid,” he wrote on Facebook.

“None of the leaders of these churches can claim that they do not know what the world is going through. None can claim that they do not know that Africa will most likely be the epicenter of this pandemic. Our cultural practices and sub-standard infrastructure have already sentenced us to death should #Covid19 find its way to these shores. Sadly, it has.

“With leadership comes great responsibility. There are risks one can take as an individual that one is not allowed to take as a leader. A hen with chicks can’t afford to fly on top a tree. These religious leaders should know this and handle their offices with great responsibility.

“The window for stupidity has closed. We are at the beginnings of a storm. This is not the time to continue the ‘anyhowness’ that got us in this trouble in the first place,” Okigbo stated.

At the time of filing this report, the Federal Government was yet to officially announce any ban on all public gatherings, like the Lagos State Government has done.

Meanwhile, the Federal Capital Territory (FCTA) on Sunday inaugurated an Epidemic Response Committee, FCT Emergency, as part of measures toward effective management of the dreaded coronavirus pandemic.

The committee comprises representatives from the FCT Health Secretariat, National Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), World Health Organisation (WHO), tertiary and private hospitals.

“Although FCTA has been up and doing ensuring that everything is done to contain the disease but with the confirmation of cases in the FCT, emergency management and treatment is opened and FCT is inaugurating this team,” Mohammed Kawu, acting secretary of the FCT Health Secretariat, said.

OLUSOLA BELLO, JOSHUA BASSEY (Lagos), IGNATIUS CHUKWU (Port Harcourt), REMI FEYISIPO (Ibadan), TONY AILEMEN, INNOCENT ODOH, SOLOMON AYADO & JAMES KWEN (Abuja)

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