By Lehlohonolo Lehana.
South Africa is considering reinstating a total ban on liquor sales as the number of Covid-19 infections surge over the summer holiday season, a source familiar with the discussions said.
Restrictions on alcohol sales have been implemented to various degrees since one of the world’s most stringent lockdowns was imposed in March, in part to lower hospital admissions from vehicle accidents and alcohol-related violence. Still, the government lost tax revenue as a result of an initial bar on any sales and liquor traders and bars fired workers.
The ban could start on Tuesday (29 December) and last through 10 January 2021, said the person, who requested anonymity because the information is not public and a final decision hasn't been made.
South Africa had three record-breaking days of infections through 25 December, when it registered 14,796 new cases. Health Minister Zweli Mkhize a day earlier called for stricter measures to curb the spread, which has already battered the economy. The number of confirmed cases in the country passed 1 million on Sunday.
The surge in cases has been driven by more gatherings over the festive season, as well as a more transmissible variant of the virus that has been discovered in South Africa.
The government’s National Coronavirus Command Council is expected to discuss a potential ban on alcohol, said Lucky Ntimane, convener of the Liquor Traders Formations, which represents liquor outlets.
"We do not think that a total ban on alcohol sales will be a solution either in the short or long term," the industry group said in a statement.
The coalition of liquor traders proposed curfew measures and alcohol restrictions, if any, that still allow off-premises sales to allow for home consumption. A complete shutdown of liquor sales would mean "an end to the tavern market and the 250,000 direct jobs linked to the sector," it said.
Liquor companies that operate in South Africa include Anheuser-Busch InBev SA, Diageo Distell Group Holdings Ltd.
The NCCC meeting follows an alert from health minister on Wednesday (23 December), that lockdown restrictions would have to be reviewed to combat the alarming surge seen in the second wave of the virus.
Mkhize said that the coronavirus has continued to spread exponentially and that the rate of spread is much faster than the first wave.
Hospitals, both private and public, are reporting that they are filling up quickly, with some already at capacity. Making matters worse, is that a lot of hospitals are operating on thinner staff due to the holiday period – who will now bear the brunt of the second wave.