Places of worship are to open under alert level 3 of the national lockdown, albeit under restrictions, and, ahead of the country moving to this level, there will be a national day of prayer on Sunday.
In a televised address on Tuesday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa said churches, mosques synagogues, temples and other recognised places of worship would be allowed to open to groups of 50 people or less, “depending on the space available”.
With the country’s confirmed Covid-19 cases now more than 20,000 and close to 500 people having lost their lives to the virus, the president said people needed prayer to manage the effects of the pandemic.”
“We have a responsibility to respond to this aspect of the pandemic as much as we have to health and the economy,” he said.
Ramaphosa also welcomed the call for a national day of prayer, saying this would “strengthen us”.
“Religious leaders have made a number of proposals on religious activities which were discussed by the national coronavirus command council.
“They agreed we should accede to the proposals in accordance with certain norms and standards. Our faith has seen us through dark times, but the closure of places of worship has worsened the distress of faith communities.”
He said the government was grateful from the beginning, when the virus first reached SA shores, that the country’s faith leaders had offered guidance and support.
“The faith community is an integral part of SA life, and they have made a great contribution.”
As part of reopening places of worship, social distancing will have to be observed and worshippers will be required to wear face masks.
“All religious organisations must put protocols in place, cleaning before and after services. Any religious rituals that have even slightest risk should be avoided,” Ramaphosa said.
“Our religious leaders will be recognised as essential front line workers. They will also continue to officiate at funerals of no more than 50 people.”
Ramaphosa called on faith communities to be proactive in raising public awareness about the coronavirus.
“We welcome offers that religious leaders have made to make facilities available in the fight against the virus, including offers to use them for school lessons, screening and testing and quarantine spaces and places of shelter.”
Ramaphosa called on all South Africans to participate in the national day of prayer on Sunday.
“We will pray for the healing of our land and the healing of our people. I call on all of us to turn our thoughts to all those affected by pandemic, as well as the families who have lost loved ones. Remember all those who are working to keep us safe, whether you are a person of faith or not. We are united in our belief in SA.”
By John Harvey – DispatchLIVE