Governor David Umahi on Friday lifted the ban on religious gathering in Ebonyi State. He said religious centres can now conduct services once a week but must observe the prevention protocol against COVID-19.

The state’s Commissioner for Information and State Orientation, Uchenna Orji, announced the governor’s decision in a statement on Friday.

Mr Umahi had declared the ban last month to check the spread of the novel coronavirus in the state.

Despite the ban and other measures including the closure of the state boundaries, Ebonyi still recorded nine cases of the virus.

The lifting of the ban followed weeks of pressure by some Christians in the state who questioned why churches were closed while markets remained opened.

The statement said the waiver was in response to the passionate appeal made by the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Ebonyi State Chapter, and other Christian leaders in the state.

According to the commissioner, the conditions for the reopening of the churches include that they observe their service only on Sundays from 9 a.m to 11 a.m.

“That Seventh Day Adventist and Muslim faithful are to observe their service on Saturdays and Fridays respectively from 9 a.m – 11 a.m. No religious centre shall permit more than 500 people and worshipers shall observe a minimum of two meters social distancing from one another.

“Wearing of face masks, washing of hands with running water and use of hand sanitisers must be strictly observed in all religious centres. No religious service is allowed to hold any other day other than the days specified herein and which must be in strict observance of all COVID-19 Laws and regulations.

“Christian Association of Nigeria ( CAN) has a duty to close down any religious gathering and arrest the principal of the worship centre that violates this order.”

According to the statement, the governor urged religious bodies in the state to use the opportunity to create awareness among their members on the protocols, policies, laws and regulations regarding COVID-19 and to pray for the State and Nigeria.

“They are also enjoined to use the opportunity to advise their members to aggressively participate in agriculture and other lawful means of livelihood. CAN leadership and Anti- COVID-19 Committee on Religious Centres are requested to please mount strict monitoring of all religious centres in the state and ensure strict compliance and discipline among them,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Ebonyi government has commenced the distribution of palliatives to residents of the state.

The speaker of the state House of Assembly, who is also the chairman, state Anti COVID-19 subcommittee on welfare and fundraising, Francis Nwifuru, flagged off the exercise in Abakaliki on Friday.

He handed over N36 million and 726 5kg bags of rice to religious bodies and widows in the state.

The first batch of palliatives was handed over to leaders of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) for distribution to their members and widows among others.

The breakdown of the palliatives was given as follows: CAN, 2,600 bags of 5kg rice and N13 million; CAN and Bishops 100 bags of rice and N5 million. CAN leadership in Ebonyi, 100 bags of rice and N5 million; and Ebonyi widows 5,000 bags of rice and N13million.