Booze Ban Back in South Africa After Virus Rules Go Unheeded
Cyril Ramaphosa, South Africa’s president, gestures as he speaks during a Bloomberg Television interview during the South African Investment Conference in Johannesburg. (Photographer: Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg)

Booze Ban Back in South Africa After Virus Rules Go Unheeded

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa read the riot act to those flouting rules aimed at curbing the spread of the coronavirus, as he reinstated a ban on liquor sales to reduce alcohol-related hospital admissions.

Many South Africans are failing to wear face masks in crowded spaces, attending large public gatherings and having “drinking sprees,” in violation of government regulations, Ramaphosa said Sunday in a televised address. Their actions are examples of “recklessness” at a time when the number of virus cases is nearing a peak, he said.

“It is concerning that many are downplaying the seriousness of this virus,” Ramaphosa said. “We are in the midst of a deadly pandemic and we must act accordingly. We must all be responsible. The truth is we are not helpless in the face of this storm.”

Coronavirus infections in South Africa have surged since lockdown restrictions were eased last month to allow millions of people to return to work, with 276,242 cases and 4,079 deaths confirmed by Sunday, a quarter of them in the past week. The government expects the disease to peak by the end of September and intensive-care units in all nine provinces to run out of beds.

The blanket ban on alcohol sales is intended to reduce trauma cases and ease pressure on hospitals. A curfew will be re-imposed from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. and the wearing of face masks will be strictly enforced.

Personnel Shortage

Hospitals in some provinces hardest hit by the pandemic are already under tremendous pressure, and the country faces a shortage of more than 12,000 heath-care personnel, Ramaphosa said.

“We have heard of instances where people who are infected have been turned away from health facilities due to a lack of beds or essential supplies,” he said. “This is deeply worrying. It means we have to move with even greater urgency to strengthen our strategy to manage the peak of infections.”

South Africa’s first coronavirus case was reported on March 5 and the country went into lockdown 22 days later, with only essential services allowed to keep operating. While the rules were eased on May 1 to allow some industries to reopen, people were ordered to remain home at night.

The curfew was abolished on June 1 and sales of alcohol for home consumption were allowed to resume four days a week. The easing, which also saw millions more people return to work, coincided with a surge in alcohol-related crime and traffic accidents.

The South African Liquor Brand Owners Association warned on July 11 that any further ban on sales would have a “disastrous” economic impact. Officials from the industry will meet later today to consider their options, SALBA spokesman Sibani Mngadi said on state radio on Monday.

Speech highlights:

  • South Africa’s case fatality rate of 1.5% is among the world’s lowest, with more than 134,000 in the country having recovered from the disease.
  • Antibody testing will be introduced in order to estimate the prevalence of the virus.
  • A national state of disaster will be extended until Aug. 15.
  • Bans on family visits and social gatherings will be retained.
  • Parks will be allowed to reopen for exercise, while all auctions will be allowed to resume.
  • Taxis can be filled to 100% of capacity for short trips and 70% for long trips.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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