South Africa’s president said late Tuesday that places of worship will reopen starting June 1 under strict restrictions to prevent the further spread of the novel coronavirus.   

“Churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and other recognized places of worship may resume services, but these will be limited in size to 50 people or less depending on the space available,” Cyril Ramaphosa said in a statement which also called for a national day of prayer on May 31. 

Places of worship were closed in South Africa about 11 weeks ago when Africa’s most industrialized nation imposed a countrywide lockdown barring non-essential workers from leaving their homes to avoid the spread of COVID-19. 

The president said that once opened, social distancing will have to be observed at all prayer facilities and worshippers will have to wear face masks in line with current health regulations.  

Ramaphosa acknowledged the important role that religious leaders play in their communities, including spiritual counseling and leading prayers. 

He said religious leaders will be recognized as essential “religious frontline workers” for purposes of their services to their communities, adding they will also continue to officiate at funerals of no more than 50 people. 

The South African leader told religious organizations that protocols must be put in place for “thoroughly cleaning and sanitizing places for worship before and after services.” 

“Our faith communities must ensure that any religious rituals that carry even the slightest possibility of exposing worshippers to risk should be avoided and that where they form an essential part of religious practice, that sanitization is paramount,” he said. 

South Africa, which has the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Africa at 24,264 and 524 deaths, will hold a national day of prayer on May 31 seeking healing and protection for the nation and its people. 

Earlier this month, Ramaphosa announced that his government will further ease the strict nationwide lockdown, allowing most of the economy to function starting June 1.

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