Covid-19 infections at churches happened before health regulations were in place: Kenneth Meshoe

Covid-19 infections at churches happened before health regulations were in place: Kenneth Meshoe

Covid-19 infections in churches in the Eastern Cape and Free State happened before there were any health protocols or regulations in place to curb the spread of the virus, African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) leader Reverend Kenneth Meshoe said on Wednesday.

“Those infections happened before there were any health protocols and any health regulations in place. That’s why the people were free to do whatever they wanted to do; they would kiss and hug in the church.

“Since the protocols are in place, churches and South Africans know there are regulations they must follow and there are health protocols they must observe and implement, and because of that we don’t believe the church will be a place where people will be infected,” Meshoe told TimesLIVE.

Religious delegations met President Cyril Ramaphosa last week in a bid to persuade him to consider the reopening of churches, albeit under stringent conditions.

Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana from the SA Council of Churches said that during the meeting they tabled a number of suggestions, including ways to handle offerings, communion and singing at services.

He said church buildings would be sterilised thoroughly before opening and regularly thereafter. They also suggested that more church services be held during the week to cater for congregants.

Churches could also have home services with at least five families in their communities, he said.

A register of those attending different church services would be kept and no member would be allowed to attend more than one service.

Ramaphosa announced on Tuesday night that churches, mosques, temples, synagogues and other places of worship would be allowed to open their doors from June 1, subject to strict restrictions.

He said services rendered by religious leaders, including spiritual counselling to individual congregants at their homes, would also fall under the essential services category under lockdown level 3.

During his address on Sunday, Ramaphosa said the government had had “fruitful discussions” with the religious community over the opening of spiritual worship and counselling services “subject to certain norms and standards”.

“Infections take place anywhere where there are human beings and now to sideline the church and to say people must not go to church because they will be infected was an unjust and biased attitude and it has been dealt a death blow,” Meshoe said.

Meshoe said those who did not abide by the 50-people limit would be penalised and should they continue to break the rules, there would be a call for them to be suspended.

While religious leaders celebrated the reopening of churches, the Jesuit Institute SA said there was “no need to open churches right now to practise our faith”.

Russell Pollitt, director at the institute, said prayer, acts of kindness, reading sacred texts and services for neighbours could continue without gathering in the midst of this pandemic.

“This sudden, seemingly rushed move is questionable. Evidence of cluster spread in other parts of the world suggests that even in places of worship where strict social distancing rules were upheld there were reports of infection.

“The more people mix, the more there is potential for spread. Places of worship are not immune to the virus.

“The move creates yet another inequality at a time that has highlighted our profoundly unequal society — those who get to attend and those who don’t.

“How and by whom will this be decided and monitored? It goes against the very spirit of being a community of believers to split that community. This is an almost impossible decision to make for religious leaders who may have to decide.”

Prof Tom Moultrie, the director of the centre for actuarial research at UCT, also blasted Ramaphosa’s announcement on Tuesday.

“So we can't see friends or family. Can't smoke. But hey, let those who want to, sing and talk with their congregation and friends in large groups. Because religion.

“There can be no further claims that the actions of government are informed by science. For shame,” he said in a tweet.