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'Religious services can resume, but with restrictions'

Religious activities including church services and gatherings under strict restrictions of 50 people or less will be allowed to resume from next month.

This was announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa last night when he addressed the nation from Hyde Park, Johannesburg. He said religious activities would resume on Monday in a "carefully-measured way".

This will coincide with, among others, the lifting of the prohibition of the sale of alcohol, as around eight million South Africans also return to work under Covid-19 level 3.

Ramaphosa said the return of religious activities follows consultations with faith-based leaders, which led to the National Coronavirus Command Council resolving to allow such activities to be allowed during level 3.

"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," Ramaphosa said.

"After consideration following consultation with our religious leaders, we have therefore determined that as part of the regulations for alert level 3, the current restrictions on congregational worship will be eased in a carefully measured way."

Ramaphosa said the places of worship may only re-open subject to strict restrictions, which were "absolutely necessary if we are to prevent infections from rising in accordance with norms and standards that will be set out in the regulations".

"Churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and other recognised places of worship may resume services, but these will be limited in size to 50 people or less depending on the space available," he said.

The president said social distancing will have to be observed and all worshippers and participants in the religious activities will have to wear face masks in line with the current regulations.

"All religious organisations must put protocols in place for, among other things, thoroughly cleaning and sanitising places for worship before and after services."

Ramaphosa said any religious rituals that carry even the slightest possibility of exposing worshippers to risk should be avoided.

The president also announced that this coming Sunday will be declared a national day of prayer, a move also suggested by religious leaders during their consultations.

"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."

African Christian Democratic Party leader and MP, Rev Kenneth Meshoe, said he would take it upon himself to ensure that churches were closely monitored to ensure that they did not "spoil the party" and that they adhere to the safety measures, such as social distancing.

"I am delighted. I feel vindicated because there were people who said I was irresponsible for calling for churches to be opened," Meshoe told Sowetan.

EFF MP Mbuyiseni Ndlozi responded via Twitter last night, saying: "So... what's next? Gyms, restaurants, sports, clubs & concerts?? If you say churches must open, what grounds do you have to deny these other spaces to also open?

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