Zimbabwe is reopening churches only to fully vaccinated congregants as the southern African country tries to encourage citizens to take Covid-19 jab.
The latest move is seen as an attempt to fight vaccine hesitancy largely influenced by religious beliefs and misinformation.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s government has also tried to increase the uptake of Covid-19 vaccines by withdrawing allowances for unvaccinated civil servants and barring them from using free transport to work.
Zimbabwe banned gatherings, including church services, last month at the onset of the third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic, which authorities say is the worst in terms of deaths and new infections since the outbreak started last year.
“Churches can now allow sit-in congregants, who have been fully vaccinated – or those that have taken two doses of the vaccine subject to Covid-19 protocols adherence,” Nick Mangwana, a government spokesperson, told journalists after a Cabinet meeting on Wednesday.
Mr Mangwana said “pastors found in breach will be arrested.”
“In other words, only those with evidence of being vaccinated should be allowed in church,” he added.
A week ago, Zimbabwe opened its two borders with Botswana and Zambia near the Victoria Falls resort only for tourists that have been vaccinated against Covid-19.
Before the re-opening of the borders, the government embarked on a Covid-19 vaccination blitz in Victoria Falls, which it said was meant to facilitate the safe reopening of the tourism industry.
As of Wednesday, 1.9 million Zimbabweans had received one of Covid-19 vaccine while slightly above one million were fully vaccinated.
President Mnangagwa on Tuesday extended a strict lockdown imposed last month by another two weeks saying although new infections were on the decline, the high number of deaths remained a cause for concern.
Information Minister Monica Mutsvangwa said Covid19 cases were on the decline countrywide, except for one province.
“Cabinet noted that the number of infections decreased slightly during the week under review, with 6,781 cases recorded, compared to the 11,652 reported the previous week,” she told journalists.
“This reflected a 42 percent decrease and indicated that the infection prevention and control measures are yielding results.
“The only exception is Midlands Province, which is experiencing another surge.”
As of Wednesday, Zimbabwe had recorded 117,954 cumulative Covid-19 cases and 3,991 deaths.