The COVID-19 pandemic, some nations have come to believe, has been mitigated by them. While such an assessment on their part may partly be right, lessons from South Korea would tell us that it does not take much of an effort from our side for the virus to become resurgent once again, and for a second wave of COVID-19 to begin spreading like wildfire, really requires only a bit of complacency from our side.
Countries in Europe and the Middle East seem particularly enthusiastic about reopening their places of worship, whether it be Churches, Mosques or other shrines. However, the risk they are taking by doing so is immense, as even when the pandemic first struck, much of the clusters and COVID-19 hotspots were found to be in and around places of worship.
Iran, the country which has grown rather infamous for large swathes of the ‘faithful’ licking Shi’ite shrines and doing their part in spreading the disease across the nation has now decided to open their places of worship today onwards, coinciding with the Eid festivities. Apart from religious places of worship, cultural and historical sites to have been given a green signal to open their doors for the general public.
Turkey, meanwhile, will allow congregational prayers at Mosques from May 29. despite an ongoing battle against COVID-19. Two out of five daily prayers, as well as Friday prayers, will be allowed in mosques of 81 Turkish provinces. Although wearing face masks and maintaining social distancing has been mandated as a must, it is yet to be seen how faithfuls’ oblige to such norms.
Tunisia too will be allowing mosques, cafes and restaurants to reopen from June 4.
Moving on to Europe, the region ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, now has its countries sprinting to open their places of worship, whether it be Churches or Mosques.
Italy, whose daily figures of fatality would horrify the entire world until only recently, has now decided to reopen Churches and Mosques. Guidelines of social distancing have been laid out, although it is yet to be seen how far such measures will go in preventing a second wave of COVID-19 from engulfing the already ravaged country.
Prayer mats will be sanitized in Italy’s Milan Via Meda Mosque to fight the COVID-19 threat. Shoes will be placed on racks outside the room in a well-spaced fashion. Handshakes and hugs are forbidden, as a result of which people are to greet each other by putting their right hand on the heart.
In Italy’s churches, Holy Water fonts will remain empty and the usual exchange of the sign of peace will not be happening. Further, the distribution of the communion water will be done into the worshipers’ hands by a masked celebrant wearing gloves.
Vatican City’s historical Museums are all set to open on June 1 too despite the COVID-19 threat.
In Germany, meanwhile, faithful’s did not hesitate from flocking the Churches in large numbers, even as the country is relaxing lockdown measures rather steadily. As stated by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the authorities have agreed to put an “emergency brake” to all relaxations whenever needed.
Germany is already in the queue of being faced with a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. While Churches opened their doors early in May, a new cluster of 40 new cases has now been discovered, all cases of which are linked to a Baptist Church service that took place on May 10.
The Martha Lutheran church in Kreuzberg, meanwhile, decided to host Friday prayers at the end of Ramadan for Muslims who were facing an acute shortage of space owing to social distancing norms which were to be followed at the Dar Assalam Mosque in Berlin.
In France, following a High Court order, religious services have resumed in Churches amid the COVID-19 outbreak. The court order stated that the prohibition of religious services was, in fact, illegal. Indoor masses are seeing large number of people turning up, who were forced to be away from Churches since ten weeks.
Seeing Europe and the Middle East racing to open places of worship, President Donald Trump yesterday, in a hasty press conference, decided to club Churches and other religious sites to be a part of essential services which must reopen despite the carnage that COVID-19 has wreaked in USA. He went on to the extent of saying that if the Governors of various states do not follow up on his directions, he would be overriding them. The core voter base of Donald Trump and Republicans reacted positively to the President’s push for reopening places of worship, although some were sceptical about the feasibility of it all.
It goes without saying that the rush of Middle Eastern and European countries to open places of worship, even before completely opening a major portion of their economy, is a decision not thought through. In brazen attempts at pleasing their individual voter bases, the governments across the aisle are risking a second wave of cases from sprouting, which will ultimately be detrimental to the collective global fight against COVID-19. However, religious fanaticism of faithful’s can often lead to governments being forced to take such ill-thought decisions.