In a special live broadcast this evening President Cyril Ramaphosa made two announcements that will surely be seen by many Christians as an answer to prayer.
He said that with effect from June 1 — the day that South Africa moves from level 4 to level 3 lockdown restrictions — churches and other religious institutions will be able to hold services again, with a maximum of 50 people in a venue and subject to strict conditions aimed at preventing coronavirus infection.
He also announced that in accordance with requests from religious leaders with whom he has been meeting, Sunday May 31 will be designated a national day of prayer. It is surely not a coincidence that the Sunday designated for the national prayer day is the last day of May and the Day of Pentecost, a day which prophets have said will usher in new wineskins.
During the announcement which was broadcast live on various media channels, the president said that after considering proposals by religious leaders for a gradual return to religious activities, the National Coronavirus Command Council decided to accede to their requests “in accordance with certain norms and standards’.
He thanked the religious community for its “great contribution in the fight against coronavirus” and affirmed its important role in providing spiritual support and social relief.
He said that as part of SA’s move to cornavirus alert level 3 from June 1, current restrictions on congregational worship would be eased in a carefully measured way. Places of worship could reopen subject to strict restrictions necessary to prevent infections in accordance with norms and standards that would be set out in the regulations.
Churches and other places of religious worship may resume services limited to 50 people or less, depending on the space available, he said. Social distancing will have to be observed, everybody at the service will have to wear facemasks and protocols will have to be put in place, for among other things, the cleaning and sanitising of places of worship before and after services.
Religious rituals which posed even the slightest possibility of exposing worshipers to risk should be avoided.
He said that religious leaders will be recognised as essential frontline workers for the purposes of spiritual counselling to members of their faith organisations. They would also continue to officiate at funerals with a maximum of 50 people in attendance.
Ramaphosa thanked the religious community for offers to make their facilities available for use in the fight against coronavirus by providing additional space for school lessons, quarantine, screening and testing, and as places of shelter for survivors of gender-based violence
He urged all South Africans to heed the call of the religious community for a national day or prayer on Sunday “where we will once again come together to pray for healing of our land and the protection of our people”.
“On this day, wherever we may be, I call upon all of us, to turn out thoughts to all those who have been affected by the pandemic, to also turn our thoughts to the families of those who have lost their loved ones. On this day we should remember those who are working to keep us safe, and those who are suffering and grieving,” he said.
View President Ramaphosa’s broadcast to the nation earlier this evening: