Kampala, Uganda | THE INDEPENDENT | Governments that continue to implement COVID-19 restrictions must allow the people to voice their concerns to lead to better management of the pandemic, experts have said.
Speaking at the 8th virtual townhall meeting themed ‘continuous religious freedom concerns during COVID-19 in Uganda’ on Nov.29, Sean Nelson, the legal counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) in the United States, said, as many people raise their voices against COVID-19 restrictions, authorities must pick interest in that and respond accordingly.
He particularly referred to Uganda government’s move to limit the number of worshipers at places of worship.
“…you have to treat worshipers fairly and consistently with other regulations,” he said.
He said, it is not okay to shutdown places of worship when other areas are open.
“That discrimination raises suspicions,” Nelson said. He added that human beings need that connection with God and enhance their spiritual strength.
He said, such moves appear to suggest that churches are not essential, which is against the key provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
The government of Uganda put a cap of 200 people to attend mass/prayer gatherings as one way of minimizing the risk of spreading COVID-19, but critics say, this move is misplaced given that it has no scientific backing.
President Yoweri Museveni has repeatedly said, the country will fully be reopened in January 2022 after majority of the population obtaining their COVID jab.
Anne Tendo, a lawyer and Ugandan citizen said, the COVID-19 situation has not been good for any religion during the pandemic because of the limitations that the government put in place.
“There is no scientific basis to show that places of worship are super spreaders of the virus,” Tendo said.
She said, there are cases in Ugandan courts and East African Court of Justice challenging some of these measures, but their hearing is taking long because of case backlog within the judiciary.
“People have every right to enjoy their freedom of worship…I hope courts will agree with petitioners to reopen places of worship,” said Tendo.
Dr Eva Mugisa, a pharmacist said, covid restrictions have fueled debate about management of the virus threat.
Mugisa said, the management of this pandemic should be done to preserve life in all aspects and not to hurt.
“Uganda is a very religious nation,” she said, adding that limiting the number of worshipers in various centres is not scientific and should not have been implemented.
Mugisa does not also support conducting vaccination drives around worship centres.
“If you have vaccination exercise done within a clinical setting, that is okay,” she said, but doing it in a place of worship raises ritualistic aspects to it.”
“Anything to do with blood is misplaced when it is done in houses of worship,” she said, “these touches more those with strong sentiments on matters religion.”
“I don’t think that is ethical, but that is the situation on the ground,” she said in reference to Ugandan authorities allowing vaccination drives to happen around worship centres, before adding, houses of worship are holly places and should not be used for medical procedures.
The latest townhall meeting was moderated by Lois MacLatchie, a communications expert, hosted by ADF. These virtual meetings aim to providing alternative views on COVID-19 management by authorities around the world.