A press conference on COVID-19 is held in Proteria, South Africa, March 9, 2020. South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on Monday announced that four more South Africans have been tested positive for the COVID-19. (Xinhua)
A press conference on COVID-19 is held in Proteria, South Africa, March 9, 2020. South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on Monday announced that four more South Africans have been tested positive for the COVID-19. (Xinhua)

The South African government on Friday unveiled guidelines for religious gatherings after the country eases COVID-19 lockdown restrictions.

After wide consultations with the religious sector, the government is now in a position to categorize religious counselling as an essential service, said Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma.

This will enable the millions who have been affected by the virus to receive this much-needed service since the majority cannot afford professional attention of this nature, the minister said.

Religious gatherings such as church services will be permitted and the phased re-opening will start from June 1, with a maximum of 50 congregants, and venues should be able to accommodate such requirements, Dlamini-Zuma said.

Religious organizations should, where possible, convene services through virtual platforms, she said. “Health and safety measures at places of worship should be made a priority, as such all religious leaders or persons in charge must develop plans and protocols on how they will manage the re-opening, whilst ensuring that there are not more than 50 persons within the place of worship at a time,” the minister said. The religious leaders or persons in charge should ensure health, hygiene, social distancing are observed and ensure that every person entering a place of worship wears a cloth face mask covering both mouth and nose, Dlamini-Zuma said. Washing of hands or sanitization should be undertaken prior to worship and continually in between the service, she added.

Places of worship are required to keep a register which must be retained for a period of six months detailing names, contact details, residential address and contact persons, according to Dlamini-Zuma. Under the regulations, anyone who presents symptoms such as cough, fever, sore throat, shortness of breath, or difficulty breathing should not be allowed to enter a place of worship, and any persons over the age of 60 years and those with co-morbidities are encouraged to continue worshiping at home.

“All religious organizations are required to establish COVID-19 committees to establish their state of readiness and to verify the existence of the plans required in terms of these directions before opening for services,” the minister said. South Africa will ease the lockdown from level four to level three on June 1, allowing 8 million people to return to work while reopening most of the economic sector.

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