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Bishops in Malawi, Zambia Concerned About COVID-19 Upsurge, Call for Vigilance

Catholic Bishops in the Southern African nations of Malawi and Zambia have, in separate statements, expressed concerns about the upsurge in the reported COVID-19 cases in their respective countries.

In their respective statements Thursday, January 7 and Friday, January 8, the Bishops call on the people of God in the two neighboring countries to exercise vigilance and observe COVID-19 measures previously issued by various stakeholders in the country.

In their January 8 collective statement availed to ACI Africa, members of the Episcopal Conference of Malawi (ECM) note “with great concern” the rise in cases of the pandemic and direct that the ECM COVID-19 pastoral guidelines issued March 2020 are still in force and “must be strictly adhered to.”

“Public Health Directives and ECM Guidelines must be strictly observed not only when attending Churches and funerals but wherever one goes including public places such are markets, hospitals, etc.,” ECM members say. 

They add, “Until the situation normalizes it is irresponsible to think that we can continue to live normal life either as Priests or the Lay faithful hence the need to follow precautionary measures at all times and everywhere.”

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The landlocked nation in Southeastern Africa has seen an increase in new COVID-19 cases since the middle of December.

On Thursday, January 7, the country recorded 274 new cases, the highest since COVID-19 was first reported in the country, raising the total number of cases to 7,611. There have been 203 reported fatalities due to the coronavirus and 5,791 people have recovered from the virus.

In their two-page collective message that lists those at the helm of the eight Ecclesiastical Sees in Malawi, ECM members also urge all Catholic faithful to use face masks when taking part in public liturgical celebrations including funerals.

They emphasize that the limit of 100 congregants decreed by the Presidential Taskforce Decree “be strictly followed while observing social distance.”

ECM members also direct that Clerics in the country “consider all liturgical celebrations such as the Holy Mass and funeral functions as occasions for conducting public awareness on the seriousness and dangers of COVID-19.” 

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Reiterating their April 19 message, the eight Catholic leaders who include an Archbishop, five Bishops, and two Diocesan Administrators also direct Catholic media in the country to continue broadcasting “live Holy Masses and other relevant pastoral programmes for the spiritual edification of the faithful who may be physically impeded in attending the Holy Mass.”

In a separate statement obtained by ACI Africa, members of the Zambia Conference of Catholic Bishops (ZCCB) decry “the worrying trend with regard to the COVID-19 situation” in their country. 

“There is an escalation in both the number of confirmed cases and the number of deaths,” Bishops in Zambia say in their statement signed by the Bishop Director for Health in ZCCB, Patrick Chisanga.

They add, “This surge in the number of cases is further accompanied by an increase in the severity of the disease requiring hospitalization and oxygen therapy.”

Zambia has been experiencing a rapid increase in new positive cases of COVID-19 since December. 

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On December 30, Health Minister, Chitalu Chilufya, confirmed the upsurge in new positive cases and deaths as part of the second wave of the pandemic in the country.  

The landlocked Southern African nation has recorded 25,326 cases of the coronavirus including 441 deaths and 20,349 recoveries.

In their collective statement, the Bishops warn that if the upward trajectory continues, “the lockdown of epic centres will be inevitable, with all the devastating consequences of such a situation.”

They recall the interference in the day-to-day activities witnessed last year after the government put in place COVID-19 measures saying, “Our memories are still fresh with the disruption of our social, economic and religious life experienced in the past months when restrictions were imposed and institutions closed.”

“It is the moral responsibility of everyone to ensure that Zambia does not plunge into the undesirable worst possible scenario,” members of ZCCB say.

They want the people of God in Zambia to “critically think about protecting yourselves and others.”

ZCCB members “STRONGLY advise” all Zambians to follow the guidelines put in place by the Ministry of Health and the Zambia National Public Health Institute (ZNPHI) in order to protect themselves and loved ones. 

They also promise to issue further guidance if the situation accelerates. 

“May God through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and St. Joseph Her Chaste spouse, and Protector of the Universal Church, grant you good health,” ZCCB members implore.