Religious leaders can resume services from June 1, national day of prayer on May 31
After consultations with religious leaders, the restrictions on congregational worship will be eased in a carefully managed way for alert level 3 from June 1, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Tuesday night.
Churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and other recognised places of worship will be allowed to resume services, but will be limited to 50 people or less, depending on the space available.
Social distancing will have to be observed and all worshippers and participants will have to wear face masks in line with the Covid-19 regulations.
The president said religious leaders will be "recognised as essential religious front-line workers for purposes of spiritual counselling to members of their faith organisations".
Ramphosa said Health Minister Zweli Mkhize informed him today that the country now has over 20 000 people that have been infected and close to 500 people have lost their lives. But he expressed his gratitude that more than 11 000 people have recovered from the coronavirus.
He also announced that a national day of prayer will be held on Sunday, May 31.
"In helping our nation to cope with these difficulties, we acknowledge and welcome the call that has been made by our religious leaders for a day of prayer.
"I therefore urge all South Africans to heed the call of the leaders of our various faith communities for a national day of prayer on Sunday, the 31st of May, when we will once again come together to pray for the healing of our land and the protection of our people.
"On this day, wherever we may be, I call upon you to turn your thoughts to all who have been affected by this pandemic. On this day, we should remember those who are working to keep us safe, those who are suffering and grieving."
Ramaphosa said although the nationwide lockdown had curtailed the activities of the faith-based organisations, "they have helped to keep our spirits up. They have encouraged us to remain focused".
With the focus now on enabling South Africans to cope during this crisis and rebuilding the shattered economy, as well as assisting individuals and businesses whose livelihoods have been negatively impacted, Ramaphosa "recognised and appreciated the important role the faith community has played in the provision of spiritual support and social relief".
"As we now prepare to move to coronavirus alert level 3 on the 1st of June, we recognise and appreciate their deep desire to return to their duties, to serve their communities and to serve society.
"When I addressed the nation on Sunday, I said that we have been discussing with leaders of the religious community who have made a number of proposals around a gradual resumption of some religious activities and the manner in which they would like to exercise their functions.
"The National Coronavirus Command Council discussed the proposals put to us by our religious leaders and determined that we should accede to the proposals put forward in accordance with certain norms and standards.
"South Africans are a people of deep faith. Our faith is what has seen us through many dark times and sustained us.
"We understand the great impact that the closure of places of worship has had on members of the faith community, and that this has worsened the distress of communities who are unable to worship in congregation.
"Our leaders in the faith community provide spiritual guidance, care and counselling to millions of South Africans, and we are immensely grateful that from the beginning of our task of addressing this health crisis they have stood with us and provided advice, guidance, support and encouragement from the very beginning.
"The faith community is an integral part of South African life and has made a great contribution in the fight against the coronavirus."
Ramaphosa said all religious organisations must put protocols in place for, among others, thoroughly cleaning and sanitising places for worship before and after services.
"Our faith communities must ensure that any religious rituals that carry even the slightest possibility of exposing worshippers to risk should be avoided, and that where they form an essential part of religious practice, that sanitisation is paramount," he said.
Ramaphosa also welcomed the offers that have been made by several religious bodies to make their facilities available for the fight against the coronavirus – by providing additional space for school lessons, for quarantine, for screening and testing or for places of shelter for survivors of gender-based violence.
"This new phase of managing the coronavirus as a constant in our daily lives will be in many respects more difficult. It demands vigilance and it will continue to demand sacrifices of us all.
"The social distancing and hygiene measures that are in place under the lockdown will have to continue way into the future, and cannot be abandoned or compromised."
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** If you think you have been exposed to the Covid-19 virus, please call the 24-hour hotline on 0800 029 999 or visit sacoronavirus.co.za