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Covid-19: Fiji Govt urged to let people into church

Saturday 2 October 2021 | Written by RNZ | Published in Fiji, Regional

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Covid-19: Fiji Govt urged to let people into church
From left, Methodist Church president Reverend Ili Vunisuwai, vice-president Apisalome Tudreu, Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, and former church presidents Dr Epineri Vakadewavosa and Tevita Banivanua, Photo: Facebook/Fiji govt

Some church leaders in Fiji want the Government to allow non-vaccinated people to enter their houses of worship.

Only those fully vaccinated will be allowed into churches when places of worship open their doors on Monday.

Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said last week once Fiji achieved 70 percent full vaccination, all workplaces, tertiary institutions, houses of worship, hotels, restaurants, caf├ęs, cinemas, gyms, pools and tattoo parlours could operate at 70-percent capacity.

According to the Health Ministry, 95.8 percent of the target population have received one dose, and 72.5 percent are fully vaccinated.

There has been pressure on the clergy to get the injections since the Government's 'No jab, no job' policy for public servants was announced in June.

The Christian Mission Fellowship Church confirmed about 10 of its pastors had quit because they did not want to get the vaccine.

The church's media director, Joe Kurulo, said the ministers were not forced to resign but had done so of their own free will.

He said the church respected their decision.

The Government's policy is being supported by a majority of the churches, with some churches advising their followers to stay at home if they were not fully vaccinated.

The Methodist Church said no one was spared from this requirement including divisional heads, ministers, stewards and other staff.

Church president Reverend Ili Vunisuwai confirmed that a circular had been sent to all 59 divisional heads to collect data from the clergy to determine those who had been vaccinated and those who hadn't.

He said the church would make further announcements on their fate when a decision is made.

"Only those who have been fully vaccinated will be allowed into churches," Vunisuwai said. "If they have not been fully vaccinated, then they have to remain at home until they are fully vaccinated."

But the Assemblies of God Church said people should not be stopped from coming to church - whether they were vaccinated or not.

General Secretary Reverend Filikesa Koroivueta urged the Government to review its decision.

He said the church would propose unvaccinated people be allowed in church but with strict measures in place.

"We still hope that our national leaders will at a point in time consider the unvaccinated people to enter our churches."

Koroivueta said they had yet to account for their members including pastors who were not vaccinated.

He said the AOG were not a member of the Fiji Council of Churches and it would make a separate proposal to the authorities.

The Catholic Church also wants to have open churches for all worshippers

Archbishop Peter Loy Chong said while they welcomed the announcement by the Prime Minister, they would also push for dialogue to have an open church for its members.

"We would request for a dialogue so that we can accommodate religious values and respect people's freedom of religion and also while we have our religious freedom, we also have a social responsibility that we support," Chong said.

Chong said they could have an open church whether people were fully vaccinated or not, but everybody that comes into church must practice extremely strict Covid-safe protocols.

"That is the possibility between respecting religious freedom and at the same time understanding everyone's social responsibility of the common good."

Chong said he had received reports that all his priests had received the vaccine.

But World Harvest Centre Associate Pastor Kolinio Boila said as law-abiding citizens, church members were also required to work within the law.

"We also aware it is a temporary arrangement, and restrictions will be lifted in stages. So we have to learn to be flexible and adjust accordingly," Boila said.

"We are excited about the opportunity to have church services again after seven months of not being able to do so.

"We will work within the 70 percent capacity. We are glad it is better than the 50 percent when restrictions were uplifted last year.

"The church is encouraging its members to follow Ministry of Health and Medical Services advice and get vaccinated," Boila said.

He said those who were still yet to receive their Covid-19 vaccine dose would be able to access all church services live on Facebook and YouTube.