FAQs on Health Regulations Amendment, 2022

by FOR SA
6 May 2022

Please note that the document is intended to serve as a Guideline only, and FOR SA cannot be held legally liable for reliance thereon. It remains the responsibility of every church or religious organisation to familiarise themselves with the Health Regulations Amendment, 2022 and to obtain legal advice particular to them.

By all means, freely distribute the FAQ document we have produced to your constituents. 


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS:

THE IMPLICATIONS OF THE HEALTH REGULATIONS AMENDMENT, 2022
(PROMULGATED ON 4 MAY 2022)
ON FAITH-BASED GATHERINGS

 
(updated on 6 May 2022)

By Freedom of Religion South Africa (FOR SA)

*Disclaimer – FOR SA accepts no liability for any reliance placed on this document. Readers always have the responsibility of reading the latest Health Regulations for themselves to verify that the information reflected in this document is still applicable. 

The purpose of this document is to assist churches and other religious organisations in their understanding of their obligations in terms of the Health Regulations Amendment, 2022 (“the Amendments”). The Amendments came into effect on 5 May 2022 and make certain changes to, but do not replace, the existing 2017 Regulations Relating to the Surveillance and the Control of Notifiable Medical Conditions (“the Existing Regulations”). 

As such, the Existing and the Amendments must be read together. They are now the new “rules for society” going forward, indefinitely, and until decided otherwise at the sole discretion of the Health Minister.

Timeline:
On 15 March 2022, the Health Minister, Dr Phaala, opened up the Draft Health Regulations for public comment.   These contained proposed changes to the Existing Regulations.

On 4 April 2022, President Ramaphosa addressed South Africa, stating that Cabinet had decided to terminate the National State of Disaster with effect from midnight that evening and that, going forward, COVID would be managed using regulations made under the National Health Act.  That same day, Minister Dlamini-Zuma published a notice in the Government Gazette officially terminating the state of disaster and its regulations and directives. Only certain transitional regulations were maintained which automatically lapsed at midnight on 4 May 2022. 

On 4 May 2022, the day of the lapsing of Minister Dlamini-Zuma’s transitional regulations, the Health Minister promulgated the Amendments in terms of powers conferred upon him by the National Health Act. The Department of Health stated that this was to “ensure that there is no gap in terms of legal instruments to contain the spread of COVID-19 and future notifiable medical conditions” and that the Amendments were “limited regulations” only. 

Note:  Dr Phaala is allowing for public comments on the Draft Health Regulations (i.e. the unlimited version of the regulations) until 5 July 2022.   It, therefore, remains important to continue commenting on the (unlimited version of the Regulations put forward in the) Draft Health Regulations until comments close on 5 July 2022.

FAITH-BASED GATHERINGS:

Q:        Can we have church / religious services?
A:        Yes, neither the Existing Regulations nor the Amendments prohibit religious / faith-based services.  However, the Amendments do impose certain limitations on the number of congregants who can attend without proof of vaccination (of at least one dose) or a negative COVID-19 test – discussed below.

Q:        Do we need to wear masks inside church?
A:        Yes, Regulation 16A(3) of the Amendments requires that you wear a mask indoors.

Q:        What are the limitations on indoor gatherings without vaccination certificates / negative COVID tests?
A:        Regulation 16B(4) of the Amendments limits attendance at an indoor gathering to 1000 people (or 50% of the venue’s capacity, should this be less than 1000 people) if no proof of vaccination or negative COVID test (less than 72 hours old) is demanded as an entry requirement.

E.g. if your church hall can hold 500 people maximum, you are allowed to have 250 people in a service without requiring either a vaccination certificate or a negative COVID test certificate.

Q:        What are the limitations on indoor gatherings with vaccination certificates / negative COVID tests?
A:        Regulation 16B(3) of the Amendments limits attendance at indoor gatherings to 50% of the venue’s capacity, but requires that proof of vaccination (of at least one dose) or negative COVID test (less than 72 hours old) be provided as an entry requirement.

E.g. if your church hall can hold 5000 people maximum, you are allowed to have 2500 people in a service, but because this is more than 1000 people, you will need to require every attendee to show either a vaccination certificate or a negative COVID test certificate, before allowing them inside.

Q:        What are the limitations on outdoor gatherings without vaccination certificates / negative COVID tests?
A:        Regulation 16B(6) of the Amendments limits attendance at an outdoor gathering to 2000 people (or 50% of the venue’s capacity, should this be less than 2000 people) if no proof of vaccination or negative COVID test (less than 72 hours old) is demanded as an entry requirement.

E.g. if your church is meeting on a field that can hold 5000 people maximum, you are allowed to have 2000 people in a service on the field without requiring either a vaccination certificate or a negative COVID test certificate.

Q:        What are the limitations on outdoor gatherings with vaccination certificates / negative COVID tests?
A:        Regulation 16B(5) of the Amendments limits attendance at outdoor gatherings to 50% of the venue’s capacity, but requires that proof of vaccination (of at least one dose) or negative COVID test (less than 72 hours old) be provided as an entry requirement.

E.g. if your church is meeting on a field that can hold 5000 people maximum, you are allowed to have 2500 people, but because this is more than 2000 people, you will need to require every attendee to show either a vaccination certificate or a negative COVID test certificate before they are allowed onto the field.

Q:        Is there a closing time for churches?
A:        No. Neither the Existing Regulations, nor the Amendments institute a closing time and/or curfew.

Q:        What can happen if we exceed the maximum number of people allowed?
A:        Importantly, Regulation 20 of the Existing Regulations makes failing to abide by the Regulations a  criminal offence.  If you are convicted, you can be sentenced to an unspecified fine and/or up to 10 years in jail.

Q:        Do we need to display an occupancy certificate?
A:        Yes. In terms of Regulation 16B(7) of the Amendments the owner or operator of any facility (whether indoor or outdoor) where gatherings are held, must display an occupancy certificate.  This certificate must set out the maximum number of persons the facility may hold.

Importantly, in terms of Regulation 20 of the Existing Regulations, should you fail to display the occupancy certificate, you commit a criminal offence.  If you are convicted, you can be sentenced to an unspecified fine and/or up to 10 years in jail.

Q:        What does the “certificate of occupancy” that is to be displayed (in terms of Regulation 16B(7) of the Amendments) refer to
A:         Although the Amendments are not very clear with regard to “certificate of occupancy”, it is likely that what is meant is the template COVID-19 Occupancy Compliance Certificate on the SA Government website that was used during the State of Disaster. It appears to be a simple matter of churches and religious organisations completing this template certificate and displaying it at their venue.

Q:        Must we screen people and keep a record?
A:       Neither the Existing Regulations nor the Amendments require that churches screen people and/or keep a record.

 END.

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