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Government allows bigger religious gatherings, but urges SA to 'act with caution'

The government has doubled the total number of people allowed to attend religious gatherings, but said strict health protocols remain in place

30 March 2021 - 21:27 By belinda pheto
President Cyril Ramaphosa during his address to the nation on Tuesday night.
President Cyril Ramaphosa during his address to the nation on Tuesday night.
Image: Siya Duda / GCIS

The government has doubled the number of people who will be allowed to attend religious gatherings, but said that strict health protocols would remain in place.

This would affect the Easter weekend, as well Passover and, potentially, the expected start of Ramadan.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said during an address to the nation on Tuesday night that the government had held consultations with faith-based communities to find solutions to the challenges of managing large crowds at religious services.

During his address, Ramaphosa said religious gatherings would now be restricted to 250 people for indoor events and 500 people for outdoor events. However, apart from existing health protocols being in place, Ramaphosa said that should a venue be too small to accommodate these increased numbers, then the number of attendees cannot exceed 50% of the venue capacity.

Congregants should not gather outside their usual places of worship, and people must go home and not sleep over after services,” he said.

Expressing a vote of confidence in the leadership of the faith community, Ramaphosa said he was pleased that they engaged positively with the government — and also commended them for the precautionary measures they had put in place to contain the virus.

“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. For Christians, congregational worship is an important part of celebrating Easter. The Jewish community is celebrating Passover, and the Muslim community will soon be starting the Holy month of Ramadan,” Ramaphosa said.

During the address, the president added that other, non-religious, gatherings would also be allowed for 250 people (indoors) and 500 people (outdoors).

He said the government will monitor closely the situation and will respond quickly to any signs of the resurgence of the virus. He urged people to gather outdoors because this was “significantly safer” that doing so inside.

Government will review the measures on the size of gatherings within the next 15 days based on an assessment of the state of the pandemic and the extent of compliance with health protocols, he said. The current Disaster Management Act expires on April 15.

“We continue to follow the principle that restrictions should not be more severe than is necessary to contain the spread of the virus. We continue to be guided by data on the epidemiological situation and by expert advice and wide consultations with social partners,” Ramaphosa said.