, 30 March, 2020 / 6:57 AM
The decision to postpone a three-week lockdown of Kinshasa, the capital city of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which had been announced as one of the raft of measures to contain the spread of COVID-19, has been criticized by the country’s senior Prelate who has faulted the government for taking chances with the lives of Congolese people in the face of the virus that has claimed the lives of at least 31,000 globally.
“Faced with the serious dangers posed to our country by the coronavirus, the President of the Republic had taken preventive measures. In application of these measures, the governor of the city province of Kinshasa had decided on an intermittent lockdown which should come into force today,” Fridolin Cardinal Ambongo acknowledged at a press conference in Kinshasa Saturday, March 28.
He however regretted the March 27 decision to postpone the lockdown saying, “Yesterday evening, we learned that these measures have been postponed. This leaves the people, who had prepared for it in total uncertainty.”
The Congolese Cardinal explained his regrets, “This postponement gives the impression that the government is groping its way through such a delicate matter as the public health of our people in the context of serious epidemics.”
He termed the situation of coronavirus as “simply unbearable” and cautioned DRC authorities behind the postponement of the lockdown, “Let us not toy with the lives of our people, because all life is sacred.”
Kinshasa's Governor Gentiny Ngobila had announced that the capital would be placed in "total lockdown" for three weeks as of Saturday, March 28, due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.
Cardinal Ambongo’s reaction follows the March 27 announcement by DRC authorities that Kinshasa's three-week lockdown will be postponed with immediate effect amid fear of price speculation on basic goods and increased insecurity in the city, GardaWorld reported.
DRC has at least 58 confirmed COVID-19 cases and five reported deaths.
In the East African nation of Kenya where at least 42 cases of the deadly virus have been confirmed, a country wide dusk-to-dawn curfew took effect Friday, March 27 as one of the drastic measures taken to help contain the spread of the virus.
On Monday, March 23, President Felix Tshisekedi declared a state of emergency with immediate effect, closing the country's borders, banning all traffic, both inbound and outbound, though allowing trucks, ships, and cargo planes.
According to the Archbishop of Kinshasa, “If you confine the people of Kinshasa for two or three days, there will be deaths. But if we don't do a total lockdown, we're not going to break the chain of contamination.”
In his considered view, the success of a total lockdown capable of slowing and responding to the spread of the virus would only be conducive if accompanied by humanitarian emergency measures.
“In our opinion, only a total lockdown would be more appropriate to slow the spread of this terrible epidemic,” the Congolese Prelate said and continued, “However, for this total lockdown to be truly effective, it must be accompanied by emergency humanitarian measures, that is, making basic food supplies available to the under privileged, providing free water and electricity and combating price speculation on the market.”
“We are in favor of a total lockdown but accompanied by humanitarian measures. And this is the role of the state,” the 60-year-old Cardinal insisted.
“Faced with a situation like this, we have to take more precautions in advance. We must not wait until the disease is spreading all over the place then we start to wake up. We will not be able to control the disease,” the Cardinal said.
Probed on the measures taken by the Church to combat the disease, Cardinal Ambongo said, “We have followed the measures made public by the Head of State himself, but we too, as Church, receive guidance from the Holy See regarding the liturgical celebrations.”
“We have already made public a document on this subject. No public celebrations in our parishes. For Holy Week, which begins with Palm Sunday, we have given indications,” he said.
“There will be no celebrations as we are accustomed to do, but that does not mean that we will not have the Holy Week prayer,” the Cardinal explained and added, “There will be the Holy week prayer, there will be all the celebrations of this week, but the parish priest will do it with a reduced number, respecting the norms in force in our country, that is to say no more than 20 people. But the celebrations will be for the entire people of God who cannot go to church.
Faced with this pandemic, the Church leader insists the Church has an educative role to play.
“The primary role of the Church, as you know, is to educate. The Church is a mother and educator. The role of the Church is like a mother beside her children who are at risk. It is first of all how to protect her children. And the best protection now is what the Church does, that is educating people not to take unwarranted risks,” he explained.
The Congolese Prelate also invited the population to scrupulously adhere to the preventive measures enacted by the competent authorities and to show solidarity with each other, especially with the needy.
“Our help is in the name of the Lord who makes heaven and earth. Let us therefore keep alive our hope in him, who is always with us and will never abandon us. May the Virgin Mary, Our Lady of the Congo, intercede for our country,” Cardinal Ambongo concluded.
ACI Africa was officially inaugurated on August 17, 2019 as a continental Catholic news agency at the service of the Church in Africa. Headquartered in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, this media apostolate will strive to facilitate the telling of Africa’s story by providing media coverage of Catholic events on the African continent, giving visibility to the activities of the Church across Africa where statistics show significant growth in numbers and the continent gradually becoming the axis of Catholicism. This is expected to contribute to an awareness of and appreciation for the significant role of the Church in Africa and over time, the realization of a realistic image of Africa that often receives negative media framing.
Father Don Bosco Onyalla
Editor-in-Chief, ACI Africa