South Africa’s holiday season has been marred by a record number of Covid-19 infections, partly driven by a new strain of the virus. The newly discovered variant causes higher viral loads in patients, meaning that it is spread much more easily. it also seems to affect younger patients with more severe symptoms, despite the patients being fit and free of comorbidities. The alcohol ban aims to reduce the number of alcohol related admissions in order to free up resources for the influx of Covid-19 patients. In the worst affected provinces, which are home to popular coastal holiday destinations, private healthcare is buckling and sending patients to public facilities. The number of identified cases has surpassed one million at 1,004,413 with 26,735 deaths reported. – Melani Nathan
South Africa mulls alcohol ban revisit as virus cases surge
By Janice Kew and Paul Burkhardt
(Bloomberg) — 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 person 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 the initial ban on any sales and liquor traders and bars fired workers.
The ban could start on Tuesday and last through January 10, 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 December 25, 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.
“Government continuously monitors all dimensions of the Covid-19 pandemic and as and when decisions are taken they are communicated publicly,” Tyrone Seale, acting spokesman for President Cyril Ramaphosa, said by text message in a response to questions.
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 and Distell Group Holdings.