President Cyril Ramaphosa announced last night that after seeking the advice of experts and consultations with representatives of provincial and local government and traditional leaders, it was decided that the country should stay at lockdown Level 1 – with some amendment
DURBAN – RELIGIOUS leaders last night welcomed the news that the restrictions on gatherings had been adjusted to allow for more people to be present as Easter approaches.
President Cyril Ramaphosa announced last night that after seeking the advice of experts and consultations with representatives of provincial and local government and traditional leaders, it was decided that the country should stay at lockdown Level 1 – with some amendments.
Religious and other gatherings over the period would be allowed to have a total number of 250 people indoors and 500 outdoors. This is an increase from the 100 people indoors or 250 outdoors that had initially been allowed.
There had been fears earlier this week that the government would impose harsher restrictions ahead of the Easter long weekend, and church leaders had appealed for consistency in terms of how the regulations are imposed.
Explaining the amendments, Ramaphosa said where the venue is too small to accommodate these numbers with appropriate social distancing, then no more than 50% of the capacity of the venue may be used.
He also said congregants should not gather outside their usual places of worship, and that people must go home and not sleep over after services.
Catholic Church Cardinal Wilfrid Napier welcomed the announcement.
“We are very relieved that at least the president did not go to 50 for the number of people indoors. We would have been very mad had he done so.
“Although the relaxation announced tonight is not what we had requested (50% of venue capacity), at least the smaller churches will benefit from this. So we are very happy on behalf of the church community at large.”
However, Napier said the prohibition of overnight stays after church services would be a problem for those in rural areas.
“During this period, most of the services are held overnight. The fact that people will have to return home after the service will be an issue, especially in rural areas.
“It is unfair that people now have to make alternative arrangements for transport as they usually spend the whole night in a church for a service,” he said.
Napier added that online services should play an important role, especially for people with comorbidities.
Bishop Marothi Mashashane, president of the South African National Christian Forum (SANCF) said he was pleased with the news.
“We are delighted with the announcement that the president has made. He appreciated the role we, as religious leaders, have made in trying to protect our members. God has used his favour and we are feeling very blessed this Holy Week, but we still say to our leaders and members that they must continue with the same advice we’ve given them and take all precautions.”
Earlier yesterday, Mashashane said that the SANCF had advised its members to avoid bringing large numbers of people together during Easter.
“We have three Covid-19 compliance officers at churches, doing checks on temperature, ensuring that masks are on, that sanitising is taking place and that social distancing of 1.5 metres is followed in churches,” he said.
“The amendment came at the perfect time, especially since we as the Christian community didn’t have two very important celebrations, for Easter and Christmas,” Mashashane added.
Pastor Delani Ndlovu, of the Nkwenkwe-based Faith Mission, said: “This is a very positive move by the president. For our small church, it means we are effectively back to normal.”
Nametso Mofokeng, from the public relations department of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, also welcomed the eased restrictions.
Mofokeng also said that online services would play a major role in ensuring that people were protected.
She said that prior to the president’s briefing, they had already planned for 250 people inside the church, and 100 outside.
“We are now going to adjust to the new regulations accordingly. This also helps us as we will now have more people attending our services. We previously had more services each day to accommodate people, but now we will have more people and fewer services,” Mofokeng said.
Ramaphosa said the Easter weekend was a time of spiritual significance, and attending religious services was important to millions of people.
“There is a common appreciation that we must do all we can to support our people to exercise their religious freedom and keep our country safe.”
He added that the size of gatherings would be reviewed within the next 15 days based on an assessment on the state of the pandemic and the extent of compliance with health protocols.
Apart from the changes for gatherings, Ramaphosa announced that the sale of alcohol for off-site consumption would be prohibited this Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
On-site sales at restaurants, shebeens and bars will be allowed, according to licensing conditions, up until 11pm.
Other measures that remain unchanged include:
♦ The curfew is maintained from midnight to 4am.
♦ Public recreational spaces such as beaches, parks and dams will remain open. However, this will continue to be subject to strict health protocols, such as social distancing and maskwearing.
♦ Funerals remain restricted to a maximum of 100 people and with a two-hour limit on services.
♦ Interprovincial travel will still be permitted.
Ramaphosa warned that people should not let their guard down as the “pandemic is still very much with us”.
“We must act with caution, not just this coming weekend, but in the days, weeks and months ahead. We do not know when the coronavirus pandemic will be behind us, but we all know what must be done. Any action that puts ourselves or others at risk must be avoided.”