Interfaith prayers for South African COVID-19 patients, hospital staff

File: A group of people taking part in an interfaith gathering to pray for Covid-19 patients and their carers at the Rondebosch Medical Centre, in Cape Town on January 14, 2021. AFP/Rodger Bosch

CAPE TOWN - Muslims and Christians stand side by side, hands open to the sky or pressed together as they pray for coronavirus patients and healthcare workers in South Africa's coastal city of Cape Town.

Religious groups of all faiths and backgrounds have taken turns to take part in joint prayers outside hospitals over the past week, a spiritual show of support as a second wave of infections wreaks havoc across the country.

READ: Solace in prayer as pandemic toll nears two million

"In normal circumstances any leader in this community would go freely to the house of a sick or bereaved person," said pastor Gerhard de Vries Block of the Evangelical Lutheran Church.

"But due to lockdown we are not allowed to do that anymore."

Imam Sheigh Salieg Isaacs has already prayed at more than a dozen hospital entrances and carparks.     

"For now we are doing hospitals only," he told AFP. "But we are also thinking of going to hospices soon and some old age homes."

The initiative is a way to express solidarity with patients battling Covid-19 alone, isolated from family and friends in plastic-wrapped hospital wards.

"We might not always have something to say but just to be there it means so much," de Vries Block said.

"The frontline workers need our support," he added. "They need our prayers as much as the sick and the bereaved."

Isaacs said participants who personally know a patient or health worker pray outside their windows.

Each session is limited to 15 people, with face masks and social distancing enforced. Unexpected arrivals are asked to remain in their cars. 

"We use a loud hailer so they can hear some sound," noted the imam. "But the main thing is the visual which can just give them some hope."

READ: WHO warns coronavirus herd immunity unlikely this year

South Africa has recorded the continent's highest coronavirus tolls, with over 1.3 million cases and 37,000 deaths confirmed to date. 

The second wave of infection started in December and is fuelled by a new virus variant widely believed to be more infectious.


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