South Africa’s churches and other places of worship can reopen their doors from June, but will be limited to 50 people, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Tuesday as coronavirus lockdown rules are further eased.
Africa’s most industrialised economy has been largely shut since late March, when the government enforced restrictions to stem the spread of the coronavirus, which has so far infected 23,615 people in South Africa and killed 481.
Some churches responded by moving to radio, television and online so that people could worship from home.
“This pandemic has … taken a toll on us emotionally and spiritually. It has shaken our sense of well-being and security. Many of us are anxious and fearful of both the present and the future,” Ramaphosa said in a televised address.
“We have a responsibility to…take care of the spiritual, psychological and emotional well-being of all South Africans.”
South Africa will move to “level three” of its five-level lockdown system from June, allowing the vast majority of the economy to return to full capacity.
Ramaphosa, who has been under pressure from rival political parties and industries to ease the restrictions, said social distancing will have to be observed and all worshippers and participants will have to wear face masks.
He added that any religious rituals that carry even the slightest possibility of exposing worshippers to risk should be avoided, and where they form an essential part of religious practice, sanitisation is paramount.