The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 has listed guidelines for the reopening of churches and mosques across Nigeria.

The task force had earlier on Monday, June 1, 2020 lifted restrictions on religious gatherings, weeks after they were banned to contain the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

The lifting of the restriction has raised concerns among Nigerians as the number of coronavirus cases continue to rise - 10,578 as of June 1.

During a media briefing on Tuesday, June 2, the PTF's national coordinator, Sani Aliyu, advised that Nigerians should try as much as possible to continue to worship at home.

Aliyu said places of worship are recognised as a major potential for spreading COVID-19 infection, as demonstrated in several outbreaks globally.

To prevent outbreaks in the country, Aliyu said the PTF developed guidelines for the reopening of worship centres in collaboration with religious leaders in the country, guidelines he said should be used as a baseline by state governments for permitting use of the centres.

He said places of worship must sign up to full compliance with all aspects of non-pharmaceutical interventions required to protect the public from COVID-19, including but not limited to ensuring the supply of running water and soap, or alcohol sanitisers at all entry and exit points, and all high-contact locations including bathrooms.

The PTF recommends limiting congregational contact times in places of worship to regular church and mosque services.

Churches are advised to open from 5 am to 8 pm, with each service taking a maximum of one hour, with an interval of 30 minutes in between services to allow time for disinfection.

For mosques, Aliyu said only the five daily prayers and Friday prayer services should be allowed to happen.

He said mosques may open 15 minutes before adhan, the Islamic call to prayer, and close 10 minutes after prayer for fajr, dhuhr, asr.

For Friday prayers, mosques are to open 20 minutes before and 20 after prayers. Congregational times for the prayers, including the sermon, the PTF said, should not exceed an hour.

"Islammiya schools, night vigil, Sunday school and children activities are to remain suspended," Aliyu announced.

National Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Sani Aliyu [NACA Nigeria]
National Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Sani Aliyu [NACA Nigeria]

The PTF also noted that religious worshippers must sanitise, be subjected to temperature checks, and wear face masks before entry into places of worship.

Aliyu said supervision and enforcement of the guidelines will be led by the leadership of various facilities who have been directed to discourage all close contacts between worshippers including shaking hands, hugging, kissing, handing out of materials and sharing of worship instruments including prayer mats, musical organs, microphones, etc.

The PTF also recommends that the capacity of the worship centers should be limited to allow for physical distancing of at least two metres between persons, with facilities encouraged to consider the use of floor or surface markings to guide distancing.

The task force said prayer sessions should be staggered to accommodate worshippers and encourage greater opportunity for physical distancing. People from the same household are also encouraged to stay together during religious worship.

"Places of worship should plan if possible for separate entry and exit points, but it's also mandatory that they have measures to direct the flow of people to avoid crowding and breach of physical distancing rules," Aliyu said.

Business outlets within the premises of places of worship remain closed, according to the PTF, and social gatherings before and after worship are prohibited.

Aliyu called on vulnerable individuals with underlying medical conditions, and people above the age of 65 to stay away from places of worship so as to avoid infection that could prove fatal.

"It is better to stay at home and worship than to go into a place of worship," he said.

The national coordinator said places of worship that fail to comply with the guidelines should not be allowed by authorities to reopen to the public.

He also said the guidelines will be reviewed if any issues arise.