Elderly citizen calls for fairness, equality

An elderly citizen from Vaitele has called on the Government to be fair in its decision to ban church services during the extended coronavirus pandemic State of Emergency period.

Paloa James Stowers, who visited the Samoa Observer Office to express his views, said he finds it sad that the Government is coming down hard on churches who normally meet for an hour and a half when supermarkets and other businesses are allowed to be opened, even on Sundays, for at least six hours.

"I see it as unfair," he said. "Why are churches being closed when they're only on for an hour or so? Supermarkets, where hundreds of people congregate, are allowed to open for eight hours. During those eight hours, everyone is allowed to mingle. Nobody monitors the social distance there and nothing is done. 

"How do we know the virus is not being spread there? How do we know that not one person among those crowds is carrying the virus? In terms of crowd sizes, what is the difference between the supermarket and church gatherings?"

Since the nationwide lockdown enforced on 21 March 2020, church gatherings have topped the list of instances of people failing to comply with the COVID-19 State of Emergency orders to curb the spread of coronavirus.  

In the first week alone, Police Commissioner, Fuiavailiili Egon Keil, said of the 120 individuals and groups who have been issued warnings and verbal notices for non-compliance of emergency prohibitions, more than half of were church groups, close to 70 to be exact.  

Twenty four of the gatherings were from Catholic churches; 19 from the Congregational Christian Church of Samoa; four gatherings of the Methodist church; 15 for Assembly of God churches; and 7 for non-specified denominations.   

Paloa has called for the same concept to be applied to supermarkets. He clarified that he is not complaining, rather he wants to ensure that there are no chances of potentially spreading any diseases through gatherings.

"It's just concerning what is happening right now as I feel the Government should be applying the same measure they are putting on churches and others who garner gatherings under their roof, like super markets," said Paloa.

"Churches go on for one hour or hour and a half services for one day while a supermarket opens from 6 a.m. until 4 p.m. and people are all mixed in their for up to eight hours, both workers and shoppers.

"So the question is, are the Government sure that the people in those supermarkets are not carrying a virus? I see it as inappropriate, because if [gathering] had been barred, then it should be enforced for everywhere."

Paloa says if supplies is what the people are worried about, the Government should have made an earlier call before the lock down, advising the people to stock up for the next three months.

"That is one of the excuses said, that the people need to buy food, but the Government should have foreseen this coming in order to maybe give the country a whole month to pile up on stocks," he said.

"I'm not angry or complaining to the Government, they have done a great job but it's just that one thing I think is quite unfair and inappropriate."

Archbishop Alapati Lui Mataeliga was the lone voice in the herd of denominations urging Government to make an exception to the ban on public gatherings for church. 

It was the church’s hope that Tuilaepa would allow church gatherings to proceed throughout the state of emergency, which is why the congregation was not told services would be cancelled on Sundays at least.

So far, there have been no confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Samoa yet.

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