“Don’t stand so close to me” sang Gordon Sumner (aka Sting), of The Police, and this is the new mantra as South Africa becomes accustomed to the impact of Covid-19, including social distancing and self-isolation.
The situation is changing rapidly worldwide and with it come major changes to life as we knew it.
Within the past week, since President Cyril Ramaphosa’s address to the nation on Sunday, South Africans have been inundated with information on the status of the spread of the novel coronavirus in the country, as well as what to do to protect themselves, family and friends.
Schools have closed and increasing numbers of office workers have taken their laptops home to work from there. Regulations have shut down public spaces such as parks and libraries, and curtailed the operation of others.
Friday prayers were cancelled at mosques and on Sunday churches will not be full of worshippers. For millions of Christians around the world, this will be the first year they do not celebrate Easter at church.
This week, Ramaphosa met religious leaders in Pretoria, appealing to them to help enforce the ban on gatherings of more than 100 people, which will affect ordinary services, as well as weddings and funerals.
Speaking to his diocese, Anglican Bishop Allen Kannemeyer said the church had taken a number of decisions in line with the president’s announcements and in consultation with Archbishop Thabo Makgoba.
He quoted Martin Luther, and his comments made during the bubonic plague in 16th century Europe: “I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated or inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence.”
While there would still be services, they would be scaled down in size and duration. Parishioners would be encouraged to attend mid-week services, or use technology for streaming and explore ways of exercising faith other than the usual trip to church on a Sunday.
The Methodist Church announced it was cancelling Good Friday and Easter Sunday services, while the Zion Christian Church has cancelled the mass pilgrimage to Moria.
Grace Bible Church’s Bishop Mosa Sono announced that its Sunday service would be streamed live at 9am on its various platforms. “Let us pray and exercise our faith during these trying times,” he told members.
Meetings of Shepherd Bushiri’s Enlightened Christian Gathering in Tshwane have been suspended until further notice, Bushiri announced online.
The Hatfield Christian Church cancelled its services, including Easter celebrations, as has Hillsong Church, which will use its Moreleta Live platform to keep in touch with its community.
Across the capital, preparations for the testing for, and treatment of, Covid-19 have been ramped up.
Many residents have been shopping for provisions, leaving supermarket shelves empty.
Steve Biko Academic Hospital, the designated Covid-19 public hospital, has declared itself ready, with Professor Anton Stoltz, an expert in infectious diseases, having played a key role in ensuring the hospital and its staff are prepared. At sites where testing is being done for Covid-19, staff are also on hand to explain procedures (See Page 2).
Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize thanked China for the R3 million it has given towards the country’s fighting the virus, and thousands of test kits. “We’d also like to thank China for the lessons on how to deal with #COVID19,” he said on Twitter.
Earlier, he confirmed South Africa had topped 200 confirmed cases.
In other developments, SAA announced yesterday it had suspended all international flights, including to the US, UK, Germany, Australia and Brazil, until the end of May in light of the government travel ban. SAA will continue to service regional and domestic routes.