[imagesource: Hiroyuki Ito/Getty Images]
Last night, President Ramaphosa announced that places of worship could reopen from 1 June, when alert level 3 kicks in, with gatherings limited to 50 people or fewer.
Quite how that will be policed is unsure (is the place of worship going to turn away the 51st person?), but there are strict physical distancing and sanitising protocols that must be followed.
Having given up so many freedoms for the past 62 days, it seems unreal that just as infections around the country continue to rise, gatherings of up to 50 people will now be allowed.
We can’t visit a friend or family member, which I’m OK with because we’re fighting a deadly pandemic, but we can gather with 49 other strangers in an enclosed space to worship?
Don’t forget that certain religious leaders in this country have talked about healing the coronavirus through prayer, and other staggeringly dangerous claims, but I guess the religious sector applied sufficient pressure on Ramaphosa to win out in the end.
Perhaps the tobacco industry can get some tips.
Whilst celebrating the decision, the African Christian Democratic Party’s [ACDP’s] reverend Kenneth Meshoe said the online services over the past two months had not hit the sweet spot, and people needed to see “the warm smiles” of their congregation.
Umm, people will be wearing masks, remember? Then again, perhaps the collection plate is tougher to pass around online, and churches need that hard-earned money from their congregation.
All of that aside, the dangers posed by these gatherings is obvious. The Western Cape’s spike in cases has been linked to two ‘super spreader events’, and an outbreak in the Eastern Cape was traced to a single funeral.
With religious gatherings likely to feature singing and praise, there has been plenty of talk about a super spreader event that occurred in Mount Vernon, Seattle, back in March.
Details below via the Seattle Times:
Disease trackers are calling a choir practice in Mount Vernon, Skagit County, a superspreader event that illustrates how easily the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 can pass from person to person.
The act of singing itself may have spread the virus in the air and onto surfaces, according to a report published Tuesday by Skagit County Public Health.
“One individual present felt ill, not knowing what they had, and ended up infecting 52 other people,” said lead author Lea Hamner, calling the outbreak a tragedy…
A fine mist of virus particles emitted during singing could have contributed, the report suggests. Some people emit more particles than others and such emissions can happen with loud talking or, possibly, singing.
Of the 61 people attending the event, 53 fell ill, which is an 87% infection rate. Yes, people were not wearing masks, and the safety measures required in South Africa are far more stringent, but it seems absurd that as hospitals like Tygerberg see their intensive care unit full, we’re taking these risks.
You can read more on that choir event outbreak here.
Let’s not forget that in South Korea, one 61-year-old woman is believed to be responsible for a cluster outbreak that led to 5 080 infections, due in part to attending a church service.
In a country where pastors have said they can resurrect the dead, cure HIV / AIDS, and other farcical claims, we’re supposed to trust that religious gatherings will be carried out responsibly?
You’re not the only one thinking about starting your own religion…
Many South Africans are already flouting lockdown regulations, and that will only increase from June 1 when some restrictions are eased and others lifted altogether.
In a month from now, when we look at an escalating death toll and try to pinpoint where we lost all the ground we gained during more than two months of one of the world’s strictest lockdowns, we may well come to rue the decision to allow religious gatherings.
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