People gather to buy corn from a street vendor in the Central Business District (CBD) of Johannesburg | Photographer: Waldo Swiegers | Bloomberg
People gather to buy corn from a street vendor in the Central Business District (CBD) of Johannesburg | Photographer: Waldo Swiegers | Bloomberg

Johannesburg: South Africa may reinstate a ban on liquor sales as part of efforts to deal with the fallout from a surge in Covid-19 cases, which have now surpassed 1 million, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

The country had three record-breaking days of infections through Dec. 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. South Africa recorded a cumulative 1,004,413 confirmed cases and 26,735 deaths on Sunday.

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Some countries, including the U.K., have imposed travel restrictions on flights coming from Africa’s most industrialized economy after a new, more aggressive strain of the virus was identified in the eastern part of the country. The mutation, known as 501.V2, has increasingly dominated samples from the past two months and is rapidly spreading.

A second wave of infections had struck the country earlier than the government’s modeling predicted and could persist for a few more weeks, Mkhize said in an interview with the state-run South African Broadcasting Corp. on Monday.

“The whole country really is under siege with the resurgence,” he said. “The numbers are increasing much more rapidly that we initially thought.”

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 Jan. 10, said the person, who requested anonymity because the information is not public and a final decision hasn’t been made.

“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.

Potential ban

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 Plc and Distell Group Holdings Ltd.

Mkhize said the government is in negotiations to buy vaccines in addition to those it has secured through the World Health Organization’s COVAX program — which will only be sufficient to cover 10% of the population — and hopes they will be available in the first quarter of next year.

“We haven’t got anything that is concrete right now,” he said. “At the moment there is a lot of behind the scenes work. We will only announce when we are ready for it.” – Bloomberg


Also read: Mutation N501Y — threats, myths and reality of UK’s new coronavirus strain


 

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