The government’s surprise announcement that churches can now hold services for the vaccinated was yet another demonstration of its haphazard response to the Covid-19 pandemic.
More often than not, political considerations have been allowed to override scientific reasoning and logical planning to counter the outbreak of the disease that has paralysed the country for nearly two years.
Cabinet decided that churches can allow sit-in congregants, who have received two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine and on condition that they adhere to World Health Organisation and Health and Child Care ministry protocols to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Predictably, the Zimbabwe Heads of Church Denominations (ZHOCD) — the biggest body representing church leaders in the country, was taken aback by the announcement because they had not been consulted.
ZHOCD said the conditions under which churches were being asked to resume services after the latest strict lockdown to control the spread of the coronavirus, would be difficult to observe.
They said “the church will find it very difficult to turn people away because they do not have a vaccination certification.”
ZHOCD said the other problem was that very few have been vaccinated in Zimbabwe, with less than 10% of the population having received the required two doses of the Covid-19 vaccine.
The government’s new position on churches is a clear movement towards making Covid-19 vaccines compulsory for every Zimbabwean, yet President Emmerson Mnangagwa at the onset of the Covid-19 vaccination programme said no one would be forced to get the jab.
A month ago, the government also moved to force civil servants to get vaccinated by withdrawing certain allowances for the unvaccinated and banning them from using buses provided by the Public Service Commission.
There would be no problem if vaccination was made compulsory for certain groups if the move is meant to protect the wider population, but such policies should be a product of wide consultation and must be properly communicated. Consistency is key in winning public trust while fighting a pandemic.
Cabinet’s announcement on churches was brief and citizens were not favoured with the reasons behind such a decision that could have a far-reaching impact on the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
In such situations it is prudent for the government to always carry citizens through each and every stage of fighting a pandemic with regular consultations and updates.
The reaction by the church leaders showed that they were not convinced that the government was going about the process in a proper manner and the lack of consensus is bound to create problems than bring solutions.
The authorities must draw valuable lessons from this latest episode and do better next time.