'Many of us are fearful': South Africa to reopen places of worship
Johannesburg: South Africa's churches and other places of worship can reopen their doors from June, but will be limited to 50 people as coronavirus lockdown rules are further eased.
Africa's most industrialised economy has been largely shut since March 26, when the government enforced restrictions to stem the spread of the coronavirus, which has so far officially infected 23,615 in South Africa and killed 481 out of a population of 57 million.
"This pandemic has ... taken a toll on us emotionally and spiritually. It has shaken our sense of wellbeing and security," President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a televised address on Tuesday.
"Many of us are anxious and fearful of both the present and the future. We have a responsibility to ... take care of the spiritual, psychological and emotional wellbeing of all South Africans."
Social distancing would have to be observed and all worshippers and participants would have to wear face masks, he said.
Ramaphosa added that any religious rituals that carried even the slightest possibility of exposing worshippers to risk should be avoided, and where they formed an essential part of religious practice, sanitisation was paramount.
Some churches had moved to radio, television and online so that people could worship from home.
Ramaphosa has been under pressure from rival political parties and industries to ease the restrictions.
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.
Only grocery stores, pharmacies and essential service suppliers have been allowed to operate. The sale of alcohol and cigarettes has been strictly banned, for health reasons.
South Africans have only been allowed to leave their homes for essential purposes with security services enforcing the regulations brutally.
However, Ramaphosa earlier warned his citizens that more than one-third of coronavirus cases were recorded last week.
"We should expect that these numbers will rise even further and even faster," he said. "The coronavirus pandemic in South Africa is going to get much worse before it gets better."
South African Airways aims to resume domestic flights between Johannesburg and Cape Town from mid-June, the cash-strapped airline said on Tuesday.
The airline, which is under a form of bankruptcy protection, suspended all commercial passenger flights in late March. It said it had decided to extend cancellations of all regional and intercontinental flights until the end of June.
The past few weeks of lockdown, one of the strictest on the African continent, have been catastrophic for the country's poorest, many of whom live hand-to-mouth in crowded slums. Lines of hungry South Africans stretch for kilometres outside food banks.
The government has launched a $US25.3 billion ($38 billion) package - the equivalent of 10 per cent of the country's GDP - to bail out the economy.
The chamber of commerce has also issued stark warnings that unemployment could hit 50 per cent as businesses buckle under pressure.
South Africa's currency hit an eight-week high of 17.4 rand per US dollar this week amid optimism on the resumption of economic activity. The sharemarket also rose.
Reuters; The Telegraph, London