By Kayode Fasua
Lamenting the sharp increase in the cases of COVID-19 pandemic in Ogun State, the state government yesterday backed down on its initial plan to re-open religious centres this weekend.
Addressing newsmen at the State House in Abeokuta, Governor Dapo Abiodun said six fresh deaths that had shot up the casualty rate of the virus to 15, had made it unreasonable for government to allow any “large congregation.”
Pleading with religious leaders to bear with his administration, Abiodun said, “As at Monday, 15th June, 2020, we had recorded a total of 586 positive cases as against a total number of 316 on the 4th of June; being an increase of 270 or over 85% in just 14 days.
“Put more succinctly, the number of cases recorded from a first index case on 27th February to 4th June- a period of 98 days – has almost doubled in just 14 days. On the positive side, a cumulative total of 315 patients had been successfully treated and discharged, representing 54% of the total positive cases.
“This number stood at 168 in my last update on Friday, 5th June, indicating a discharge of 147 in the last 14 days.
“Within this period, we have painfully recorded an additional six more deaths, bringing the total to 15: an increase of over 66 per cent, compared to nine as at the last update.
“In my last briefing, we were considering a tentative date of Friday, 19th June, 2020 to further ease the restrictions and allow gradual opening of places of worship on Fridays and Sundays.
“Towards this end, we have had robust engagements with the religious leaders- Christian Association of Nigeria and the League of Imams and Alfas.
“I must thank them for their forthrightness, cooperation and even appreciation that the curve of the spread of the pandemic is worsening and that places of worship represent most potent fertile grounds for the spread of the deadly virus.
“After a careful review of the data, feedback from the field, expert opinions, and lessons from far and near, two major conclusions are very clear and obvious to all: first, the COVID-19 situation in Ogun State and indeed in the country as a whole has not improved since the last update; secondly, there are dire consequences in loss of human lives for premature relaxation of the guidelines, necessitating a rollback of the relaxation in a number of states and countries.
” Unfortunately, guidelines may be rolled back, the lost human lives cannot be rolled back.
“Consequently, we are confronted with two choices-yield to the demand of those who want the restrictions to be further relaxed or even completely removed, even if this is at variance with the dictates of incontrovertible data analysis and scientific opinion; or tow the path that preserves public health and safety, even if not so popular.
“As a responsible administration, we choose life and the wellbeing of our citizens and are therefore constrained to take the painful but necessary decision to maintain the current regime of eased lockdown in the meantime.
“We are consequently suspending our initially slated reopening of places of worship,” he declared.
However, while fielding questions from journalists, Abiodun said that his administration was looking at the possibility of making up for both Christian and Islamic clerics, under its ongoing palliative programmes to cushion the effects of restriction orders.
Abiodun, however, warned that the Saturday-Sunday lockdown order was still in force and that government would not tolerate anyone moving around without a facemask.
Abiodun particularly expressed his displeasure with the defiance of many commercial motorcycle (Okada) operators to comply with the one-passenger rule, threatening that if the trend persisted, he would ban Okada operations throughout Ogun State.
He also warned that the law banning football viewing centres was still in operation, stressing that both operators and viewers at such centres should be apprehended and prosecuted by law-enforcement agents.
Meanwhile, in its reaction to government’s refusal to reopen religious centres, authorities of the Winners’ Chapel, headed by Bishop David Oyedepo, said the Church would rely on the Holy Spirit “for directions”.
Speaking with THISDAY, the Church’s spokesman, Professor Sheriff Folarin of the Covenant University, Otta, said, “We have all along been supportive of the various state governments and the federal government in efforts to contain the spread of Coronavirus.
“While we await the decision of the Ogun State Government regarding the reopening of churches, we rely on the Holy Spirit for the next line of action.”
The Winners’ Chapel is the largest Christian congregation in in Ogun in Ogun State.