By Br. Alfonce Kugwa
Religious communities of sisters, priests and brothers in Zimbabwe are at high risk of contracting the deadly corona virus. This is because of the nature of their life which compels them to share most facilities such as houses of prayer, recreation, bath rooms and refectory. Most of the religious communities especially in Zimbabwe lack enough space for isolation purposes and this poses a big threat to community members in case of Covid-19’s attack. Communities need to find ways of protecting their members as the pandemic continues to spread its tentacles in the country.
Some religious communities already have some of their members displaying signs and symptoms of COVID-19 and it is wise to work around issues of protection of their members amid the World Health Organisation’s regulations of wearing of face masks, washing of hands under running water, social distancing, sanitising and covering one’s mouth when coughing.
The Zimbabwe Catholic Bishops’ Conference (ZCBC) Health Coordinator, Sr. Justina Kapita said members of religious communities should be careful and not take COVID-19 for granted. She said wearing of masks in communities is a must and that all members should practice the recommended measures of washing of hands, social distancing, sanitisation and general hygiene.
Sr. Kapita confirmed that COVID-19 was real and that members of her community of Sisters in Mutare were having symptoms of the virus while herself had the same symptoms.
“I also happen to have the same symptoms although its mild. My advice to all religious communities is to practice wearing of masks, social distancing, observe washing of hands under running water and sanitization all the time,” she said.
Sr. Kapita proposed that each member of the community should be allocated his or her own cutlery to avoid sharing of utensils as this may increase the spread of the virus in the community.
Speaking to Catholic Church News Sr. Kapita said members of religious communities share a lot in common and this could lead to the widespread of the pandemic in these communities of consecrated people.
“As religious we share most things which may expose us to COVID-19. So, we need to be very careful about the things that we use in common,” Sr. Kapita reiterated.
The ZCBC Health Coordinator stressed that social distance should be observed in common prayer rooms leaving at least one metre in between people. Where prayer rooms are small to accommodate this arrangement, she suggested the use of alternative space such as sitting or class rooms. Sr. Kapita called on all religious houses to create isolated places where the sick members can quarantine until such a time when they are proven negative by medical practitioners.
With the increasing number of suspected and confirmed positive cases of COVID-19 in convents and presbyteries in Zimbabwe, the matron of St. Joseph’s Hospital in Mutare, Sr. Andrea Mazhunga stated that COVID-19 was causing a stir in religious houses.
Sr. Mazhunga supported the suggestion by Sr. Kapita for each congregation to set aside some free space where those infected can be quarantined. She challenged communities to procure oxygen concentrators and pulse oxymeters as a way of helping those who test positive as public medical institutions have become overwhelmed.
Sr. Mazhunga indicated that there are swelling numbers of positive cases in most religious houses and called on religious communities to abide by COVID-19 measures. She insisted on wearing of face masks during communal prayers or when doing house chores or during recreation. Sr. Mazhunga said where possible communities should encourage private prayers in an effort to save lives.
The Conference for Major Religious Superiors (CMRS) President, Fr. Chiedza Chimhanda SJ said he had written to superiors of various religious orders in Zimbabwe to share their situation as regards COVID-19 in their communities. He urged religious communities to suspend communal activities that expose their members.
“The way to go is to create spaces for isolation for those who test positive. Also suspend communal activities where possible. The virus is very bad and its going to ground the church for a bit,” Fr. Chimhanda said.
Fr. Chimhanda shared with CCN the guidelines his congregation developed for those members having symptoms of COVID-19. Some of the guidelines include staying in a well ventilated room with door closed, not getting closer to other members of the household, use of spare bathroom, having meals separately from others in one’s room using separate plates and cutlery and wearing face masks all the time.