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“We were neither informed nor consulted,” Bishops in Malawi Over New COVID-19 Guidelines

Our Lady of Wisdom Cathedral in Blantyre, Malawi.

Catholic Bishops in Malawi have lamented their exclusion from the process of formulating and announcing new COVID-19 guidelines in the Southeastern African nation despite their active participation at the grassroots, “lobbying for COVID-19 compliant behaviour.”

“The Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) wishes to express its displeasure at the manner the new Guidelines have been issued,” the Bishops say in their collective statement issued Sunday, August 9.

“They have taken us by surprise,” ECM members say in reference to the Government and add, “We were neither informed nor consulted despite the fact that we have been in the forefront lobbying for COVID-19 compliant behavior.”

The Bishops’ reaction follows the Saturday, August 8 new COVID-19 directives announced by Malawi’s Attorney General, Dr. Chikosa Silungwe, including the suspension of public worship and similar public gatherings.

The new directives, which came into effect August 8 until further notice, converted COVID-19 measures into a legal framework that “will empower designated people including police officers, traditional authorities and health officers to enforce the rules such as social distancing, hand washing and mandatory mask wearing in public,” Malawi News Agency has quoted the Attorney General as saying.

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Some of the essential services exempted from the new strict measures include health and medical services, water and disaster management, banking, and “hospitality” sector.

“Hospitality and recreational facilities such as bars and restaurants will be allowed to operate only within a certain set period of time and only offer takeaway services. Hospitality services will only be allowed to offer room service,” Malawi’s Attorney General said August 8.

The country has reported at least 4,673 COVID-19 cases, 146 fatalities and 2,430 recoveries. 

“The government is doing everything possible to stop the disease from spreading including surveillance and contact tracing, case management, logistics and supplies and increasing laboratory capacity to ensure that COVID-19 testing is available across the country,” Malawi’s Minister of Health, Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda has been quoted as saying August 9.

She cautioned against laxity and urged a strict adherence to the preventive measures because cases of the coronavirus were on the rise in the country.

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In their August 8 collective statement, ECM members who had announced the resumption of public liturgical celebrations including church gatherings and Small Christian Communities in May say they had spearheaded the observance of COVID-19 measures “diligently” during public worship.

“The previous Guidelines were largely ignored in the wider society but in the churches, we applied them diligently and we were teaching all Christians the importance of complying,” ECM members recall.

They however promise to abide by the new Government directives saying, “Since we are law-abiding, we the Catholic Bishops instruct all the Clergy, the Religious and the Laity to suspend forthwith all public Church gatherings until further notice.”

They add, “In the meantime, we shall engage the Government to see our true role in preventing the further spread of COVID-19.”

The Bishops further call on Priests in the eight-diocese country to “celebrate Mass daily in their Parish Church or Community chapel in order to pray for the intentions of the people.”

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To compliment the Cleric’s efforts, the Bishops say, “Catholic media houses should broadcast the Eucharistic celebration, which Christians will follow at designated times of the day.”

They urge the Clergy, the Religious and the Laity to continue to “strictly adhere to the Health and Pastoral Guidelines earlier issued by the Conference and Ministry of Health i.e. washing hands with soap regularly and thoroughly, avoiding physical greeting and contact, observing social distance, using face masks etc.”