The Zambian government has decided to ban church services and other gatherings in high-density residential areas in the nation's capital city of Lusaka in an attempt to curb the spread of cholera.
Government ministers announced on Jan. 7 that gatherings of every nature, including church services, have been banned in areas most affected by the epidemic. The government also implemented restrictions in the movements of people in the cholera epicenters from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Bars and other businesses were only allowed to open between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. while markets and food outlets were shut down in most of the cities where cholera was detected. Additionally, schools have indefinitely suspended classes for students.
In other areas, the Zambian bishops' conference has limited the number of Masses and have implemented an indefinite ban on handshakes of peace.
The Archdiocese of Lusaka has canceled all church-sponsored programs, while the Seventh Day Adventist Church suspended all church gatherings and advised members to worship at home.
On Jan. 8, representatives of three Christian communities in Zambia — the Catholic Church, the Council of Churches in Zambia, and the Evangelical Fellowship of Zambia — issued a statement expressing their grief over the cholera crisis.
"Our hearts go to the many families who have lost their loved ones from the disease. We pray for God's peace, comfort and encouragement during this time of national crisis. We pray for the various teams working on the ground to fight the cholera outbreak so that this may be overcome quickly and life may be restored to normal," the statement said, as reported by Catholic News Agency.
"We support the efforts of other stakeholders in this battle against cholera and pledge ourselves to collaborate with government in addressing the epidemic," it continued.
As of Jan. 9, an estimated 2,802 people throughout the country have been infected by cholera, including 66 people who have died from the disease.
Recent investigations have found that the outbreak has been caused mainly by food contamination. Three restaurants have been shut down after the cholera bacterium was discovered in their establishments. The disease is known to cause vomiting and diarrhea, leading to severe dehydration that can be deadly if not treated early.
Zambian defense forces have been ordered to clean up the streets of Lusaka to help control the epidemic.
"I have directed all three wings of the Defence Force to join the Ministry of Health and the city fathers, Lusaka City Council to escalate efforts to minimize the spread of cholera in our capital city and the rest of the country," said President Edgar Lungu last month.
The government has also announced that vaccines will be available for administration, with 2 million doses of the vaccine donated by the U.N. Children's Fund.