President Cyril Ramaphosa makes a thumbs-up gesture before addressing the nation on Tuesday May 26 2020. Picture: GCIS
President Cyril Ramaphosa makes a thumbs-up gesture before addressing the nation on Tuesday May 26 2020. Picture: GCIS

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Tuesday that places of worship will be allowed to open when the country moves to level 3 of the Covid-19 lockdown.

Ramaphosa said churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and other recognised places of worship would be allowed to hold services from June 1, but these would be limited to 50 people or less depending on the space available.

Religious leaders would also be recognised as essential workers for purposes of spiritual counselling to members of their organisations, he said.

The latest decision followed a meeting with leaders of the religious community who made a number of proposals for a gradual resumption of some religious activities and the manner in which they would like to exercise their functions.

Ramaphosa said the national coronavirus command council discussed the proposals and determined that it should accede to them in accordance with certain norms and standards.

On Sunday, the president announced that the country would move to level 3.

Ramaphosa said government understood the impact the closure of places of worship had on members of the faith community, and that this had worsened the distress of communities who were unable to worship in congregation.

“The faith community is an integral part of SA life and has made a great contribution in the fight against the coronavirus,” he said.

“With our focus now on enabling our people to cope during this crisis and rebuilding our shattered economy, as well as assisting individuals and businesses whose livelihoods have been negatively affected, we recognise and appreciate the important role the faith community has played in the provision of spiritual support and social relief.”

Social distancing would have to be observed and all worshippers and participants would have to wear face masks in line with regulations. All religious organisations must put protocols in place for, among other things, thoroughly cleaning and sanitising places of worship before and after services.

Ramaphosa, however, said any religious rituals which carried even the slightest possibility of exposing worshippers to risk should be avoided. Where these rituals form an essential part of religious practice, sanitisation was paramount.

“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,” he said.

“Let us continue to be guided by the overriding principle of doing whatever it takes to preserve life.”

quintalg@businesslive.co.za