South Africa Set to Lift Alcohol Sales Ban as Covid Infections Fall

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is on Monday set to announce the lifting of a ban on alcohol sales put in place late last year to contain a resurgence in coronavirus cases, according to people familiar with the matter.

Liquor stores will likely be allowed to resume trading between Mondays and Thursdays, said the people, asking not to be identified as the plans haven’t yet been announced. Restaurants and bars are expected to be able to sell on their premises throughout the week, they said.

Ramaphosa is scheduled to address the nation about the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic at 8 p.m. on Monday. A spokesman for the Presidency couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on whether he would address alcohol policy.

South Africa has used a succession of alcohol bans as tools to address the country’s epidemic, in part to ease the burden on hospital trauma wards and to discourage large gatherings. The first prohibition was in place for more than nine weeks through May last year, and was later re-imposed during the height of two separate peaks in mid-July and late December.

The measure has been bitterly opposed by drinks makers, and Anheuser-Busch InBev NV unit South African Breweries said last month it will challenge the government in court. The company, which makes popular lagers such as Castle Lite and Hansa, argues that the policy is unconstitutional and has cost more than 165,000 jobs.

Shares in Distell Group Holdings Ltd., the country’s biggest wine and spirits maker, gained as much as 5.2% in Johannesburg, the biggest jump in almost two months.

South Africa’s active coronavirus case numbers have started to fall dramatically, with reported deaths and hospitalizations starting to follow suit. The country is the hardest hit on the continent, with more than 1.45 million cases identified to date.

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