Communion on Tongue, Handshake Suspended in Nigeria’s Lagos Archdiocese Over COVID-19

Archbishop Alfred Adewale Martins of Nigeria’s Lagos Archdiocese.
Credit: Public Domain

Against the backdrop of the confirmed case of coronavirus in the West African nation of Nigeria after a Lagos-based Italian tested positive for COVID-19 virus days after his return to the country’s most populous city from Milan, the Catholic Church has announced some preventive measures including temporary suspension of the Sign of Peace through handshakes and hugs during Mass and the receiving Holy Communion on the tongue.

The Archbishop Alfred Adewale Martins of Nigeria’s Lagos Archdiocese directed Saturday, February 29 the suspension of “the shaking of hands as a sign of peace during Mass.”

Further measures to prevent the possible spread of the deadly virus, which the 60-year-old Nigerian Prelate has given in his “Special Circular” seen by ACI Africa concern Lenten season gatherings.

“During this season of lent, in order to reduce the number of times to the barest necessary, we encourage people to do Stations of the Cross privately on Wednesdays while public celebrations will be reduced to Fridays only,” the Archbishop directed in his February 29 circular addressed “to all priests and religious working in the Archdiocese of Lagos, and the lay faithful.”

A Nigeria-based online media has reported that the Friday gathering during Lent is maintained because “it is often followed by Mass.”

Holy Communion, the Nigerian news media has quoted Archbishop Martins as saying, “for the time being, shall be received on the palms.”

“Communion in the hand was adopted during the Ebola crisis. It was nationwide, though some ignored it,” a source in Nigeria’s Port Harcourt city told ACI Africa Sunday, March 1 and added, “People seen not to bother much about the Corona virus compared to Ebola! They're going about their normal business. The talk is mostly on WhatsApp platforms where stories are flying around from all parts of the world.”

“With the first case of the virus recently confirmed in Nigeria, we hope and pray that the government does everything to ensure that the virus is contained and kept from spreading,” Archbishop Martins stated in his circular that focuses on the deadly virus that was first detected in China’s Wuhan city and spread in dozens of countries across the globe.

The case in Lagos, Nigeria’s most populous city with some 20 million inhabitants, detected Friday, February 28 is the first in sub-Saharan Africa, with the World Health Organization warning against the “fatal mistake” of complacency since the outbreak of COVID-19 virus seems to be “getting bigger” and that “most, if not, all countries” across the world could be reached.

In the wider African continent, other cases of the virus had been reported in Algeria and Egypt.

According to The New York Times’ “Coronavirus Live Updates” Sunday, March 1, “The number of confirmed cases worldwide had reached nearly 87,000 as of Sunday, with more than 7,000 cases outside mainland China, where the outbreak began late last year. The virus has now been detected in at least 60 countries.”

According to local media, the Archbishop of Lagos also announced the temporary suspension of sprinkling of holy water as well as “the use of Holy Water fonts in churches and public places.”

“People are encouraged to have Hand Sanitizers handy to be used as and when needed,” the Nigerian Prelate has been quoted as advising.  

“It is important that information about the virus and its risk of spreading should be brought to the attention of everyone,” the Archbishop states in his Saturday circular.

In the four-page circular letter, Archbishop Martins highlights a series of “preventive measures as published by Channels TV,” among them, “regularly and thoroughly clean your hands with an alcohol-based hand rub or wash them with soap and water.”

He explains, “Washing your hands with soap and water or using alcohol-based hand rub kills viruses that may be on your hands.”

The Catholic Church leader also advices the clergy, religious and laity in his jurisdiction to “maintain social distancing of at least 1 metre (3 feet)” and explains, “When someone coughs or sneezes they spray small liquid droplets from their nose or mouth which may contain the virus. If you are too close, you can breathe in the droplets, including the COVID-19 virus if the person coughing has the disease.”

Archbishop Martins goes on to caution against touching one’s eyes, nose and mouth because “hands touch many surfaces and can pick up viruses. Once contaminated, hands can transfer the virus to your eyes, nose or mouth. From there, the virus can enter your body and can make you sick.”

“Make sure you, and the people around you, follow good respiratory hygiene. This means covering your mouth and nose with your bent elbow or tissue when you cough or sneeze. Then dispose of the used tissue immediately,” the Archbishop advices.

He further directs, “If you have fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical care early. Stay home if you feel unwell. If you have a fever, cough and difficulty breathing, seek medical attention and call in advance. Follow the directions of your local health authority.”

The Nigerian Prelate encourages regular disposition to news channels with information about the virus stating, “Stay informed on the latest developments about COVID-19. Follow the advice given by your healthcare provider, your national and local public health authority or your employer on how to protect yourself and others from COVID-19.”

He explains in his Saturday letter, “National and local authorities will have the most up to date information on whether COVID-19 is spreading in your area. They are best placed to advise on what people in your area should be doing to protect themselves.”

“May the Lord deliver us from this plague and all evils,” the Archbishop implored in conclusion.

A couple of Prelates in East Africa have, in separate statements and contexts, expressed their concerns about the virus, with a Ugandan Bishop calling on the government to take measures that will prevent the spread of COVID-19 virus months before the annual pilgrimage to the Uganda Martyrs Shrine in Namugongo and a Kenyan Archbishop asking medical doctors to be on the alert and the country’s health ministry to be prepared just in case the virus gets detected in the East African country.


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
[email protected]