The head of the COVID-19 Monitoring Unit has stoutly defended the compliance of the general church community with protocols, as health authorities try to manage a new church cluster with 33 positive cases.
Ronald Chapman said on Monday afternoon that the latest outbreak of infections at a St Michael church was not a reflection of how faith-based organizations in the country were conducting themselves.
“I have been monitoring churches. What has happened is that, like most places, most churches are in compliance with the protocols. If you go to most churches in Barbados you would find all the protocols in place. It is just the one or two that we have had some issues with,” Chapman told Barbados TODAY.
“Just like any other establishment, most of the establishments by and large are in compliance. I know from time to time you may get one or two that may fall down here and there. You speak to the owners, you speak to the persons in charge and get it back in place.
“It is not like there is a mass flouting of the protocols or directives by any of the churches,” he declared.
Religious leaders representing the main church groupings in the island echoed Chapman’s sentiments in declaring their compliance with the COVID-19 protocols.
“The practice among the churches differ and, because of this, it is more likely that some would have a greater propensity to find themselves in a position similar to the one in which the particular church found itself. But, by and large, the churches have been practising the protocols,” said acting president of the Barbados Evangelical Association (BEA) Dr Winston Clarke.
In fact, he said he knows of churches which require worshipers to pre-register in order to attend services.
“It is rather unfortunate that something like this should happen, but I don’t think everybody should be lumped as one….The church as a whole has to maximize its efforts to maintain the confidence in which the Government has placed it,” Clarke told Barbados TODAY.
He said the church where the COVID-19 cluster has been identified does not fall under the BEA umbrella.
Chairperson of the Barbados Christian Council (BXC) Dr Cicely Athill-Horsford was also adamant that all member churches of that umbrella body have been strictly adhering to the protocols.
“They have been diligent [in enforcing] the protocols. In fact, they are stricter than what the Government asked. So to hear of this church and the cluster, it’s rather unfortunate,” she said.
“It is disappointing.… For the Barbados Christian Council, we have been following and preaching that if we follow the protocols, we will be good.”
Dr Athill-Horsford said once people follow the three Ws – wearing masks, washing hands and watching distance – the country will be able to pull through this period.
The BXC spokesperson suggested that Christians and Christian leaders who purport to bank on their faith in dealing with COVID-19, should apply faith with common sense.
“We do not have information to comment on the case in question. However, the churches that we are aware of continue to work tirelessly, not only in adhering to the laws of the country but on any initiatives that will protect both our members and the wider society,” declared Bishop in charge of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the West Indies (PAWI) Selwyn Brathwaite.
“Given the number of assemblies within our nation, there have been no significant issues. The church has done well to uphold the protocols and minimize any risks of infection.”
Meanwhile, Chapman has issued an appeal to residents to be patient with authorities as they use the reintroduction of a two-week 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, which starts Tuesday, to try to pull back the rising infections.
“We have asked the population of Barbados to bear with us for two weeks…and in those two weeks, a mammoth effort is taking place to ensure that we address the issue so that we can rapidly bring down the cases, or at least stymie any rise in cases that may be out there,” he told Barbados TODAY.
“We are just asking the public to bear with us and do the things they know they are supposed to do and we will get past this. We did it in the past and if we get the cooperation of the public, we can do it again in the future.”
But while Chapman applies the “carrot” approach to encourage adherence to the protocols, the “stick” has also been used during the past week on those entities that breach the rules.
“We had two bars which we had to close and a number of others we spoke to concerning breaches in protocols. Those establishments were closed for the night because we would have seen activity that we believe represented a significant risk to public health,” the COVID-19 Monitoring Unit head revealed.
He disclosed that protocol flouters continue to appear before the law courts, with about 45 facing charges over the past two weeks.
“We cleared approximately 16 convictions out of those. Persons were charged anywhere between $500 and $6 000. We had a number of cases which were adjourned and about eight of them where persons did not turn up to court,” Chapman said.