Religious leaders can now offer to counsel to members of society, who are distressed or need comfort during these trying times.
This comes after the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), Dr Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, engaged with other Cabinet members on the directions on religious gatherings, a statement from her department said.
“After wide consultations with the religious sector, the government is now in a position to categorise religious counselling as an essential service," said COGTA spokesperson Lungi Mtshali.
"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,” said Mtshali.
Government has given religious gatherings, such as churches and mosque, the green light to reopen from 1 June under lockdown level 3, with a maximum of 50 congregants under strict health and safety measures.
“However, religious organisations should, where possible, convene services through virtual platforms,” Mtshali said.
COGTA has called on religious leaders or those in charge to develop plans and protocols on how they will manage the re-opening, and establish COVID-19 committees to establish their state of readiness.
“The religious leaders or persons in charge should ensure health, hygiene and social distancing are observed, and ensure that every person entering a place of worship wears a cloth face mask covering both mouth and nose,” Mtshali said.
Government has barred any physical contact, such as shaking hands and hugging, and has called for the 1.5-metre distance between persons.
“Even with the prescribed social distancing, wearing of masks is compulsory for the duration of the church service. All religious leaders or persons in charge should ensure that any religious ritual that requires personal contact may not be performed during religious activity.”
Meanwhile, washing of hands or sanitisation should be undertaken prior to worship and continually in between the service.
“Every place of worship has to ensure that there are sufficient quantities of hand sanitizer available, which all attendees are required to use,” the department said.
Places of worship are also required to keep a register, which must be kept for a period of six months, detailing names, contact details, residential addresses and contact persons.
“Persons entering places of worship should be screened for symptoms associated with COVID-19, namely cough, fever, sore throat, shortness of breath, or difficulty in breathing.
"Anyone who presents these symptoms should not be allowed to enter a place of worship. Any persons over the age of 60 years and those with co-morbidities are encouraged to continue worshipping at home,” the department explained.
In addition, people are encouraged to observe a National Day of Prayer on Sunday, 31 May and join in meditation, fellowship and prayer, as announced by the President.
“This day must be observed in the comfort of your homes or through virtual means,” said COGTA.