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President Cyril Ramaphosa says it is now more important than ever to take precautions as citizens prepare for religious observances over the Easter period and the coming weeks.

In his newsletter on Monday, Ramaphosa said he had a constructive virtual meeting with faith community leaders, adding that they understood and appreciated the danger of a potential third wave of Covid-19 spread.

“We are now at a time where precaution is needed above all. The coronavirus pandemic has not been eliminated, either in our own country or around the world. The threat of a third wave is real and ever-present,” he said.

“International experience has taught us that we should not tempt fate. Many countries have eased restrictions, only for there to be resurgences, necessitating the imposition of even harsher restrictions.”

Ramaphosa said while the religious organisations had taken proactive and positive measures to limit the spread in the last year, many had asked for some of the existing lockdown restrictions on the number of people at gatherings to be eased as the Easter and Ramadan observances near.

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“Another important factor is that, during the various alert levels, religious organisations have incurred substantial financial losses that threaten their sustainability.

“As government, we remain committed to working with the faith community to find workable solutions. At the same time, public health and safety must be our paramount consideration,” Ramaphosa said.

The president said the government was currently deliberating on the requests made by religious bodies and other issues, and an announcement on it should be expected in the coming days.

Ramaphosa said the religious community had shown innovation and initiative in how it conducted worship services amid the uncertainty on the pandemic’s trajectory.

He said the online services, and congregants being encouraged to pray in their homes, aided the national effort to contain the spread of Covid-19.

Ramaphosa added that, equally, citizens also demonstrated their commitment by adhering to public health protocols and social distancing.

He added that, faced with this reality, faith communities were encouraged to innovate when holding congregational worship in the upcoming Easter, Passover and Ramadan – just as they did last year.

Ramaphosa stressed that large gatherings, whether religious or otherwise, had the potential to spread the virus, despite applying measures around social distancing and sanitising.

“Over this coming weekend, millions of South Africans will be observing an important tenet of their faith. In a country that enshrines the right to religious freedom, all effort must be made to support our people in the exercise of this right. And, in exercising this right, we need to make sure that we do not place the rights or the lives of others at risk.

“This is a principle that the religious leaders I met with fully support and appreciate. Like Martin Luther, they understand the responsibility of all people of faith – indeed of all South Africans – to observe the practical measures put in place to protect people’s health and save lives,” Ramaphosa said.

News24 reported that the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) was advised by the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) to put the country under a Level 2 lockdown as a precaution for the Easter holidays.

According to the MAC advisory, sources said the NCCC was advised to restrict gatherings to 50, impose a 22:00 curfew, and restrict alcohol sales from Monday to Thursday, from 10:00 to 18:00.

News24 also reported that Ramaphosa was due to meet with premiers on Tuesday.

A decision around the restrictions during the long weekend was expected to be finalised by Tuesday or Wednesday.

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