South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday said a controversial ban on the sale of alcohol would be lifted for home consumption when the country moves into level three of a five-tier coronavirus lockdown next month.
At least 40,000 people could die from coronavirus in South Africa by the end of the year, according to projections made by a group of academics and health experts warning the government.
The country had implemented one of the world’s most stringent lockdowns after recording its first coronavirus-related death in March. The South African government banned the sale of tobacco and alcohol as part of a broad lockdown, in addition, the regulations banned jogging and dog walking, and shuttered parks.
The booze ban was meant to prevent a spike in violence and reduce pressure on emergency wards as hospitals geared up to face a virus that has infected at least 22,583 people across the country and killed 429, according to Johns Hopkins.
Alcohol would be sold for “home consumption only” under strict conditions on specified days and for limited hours, Ramaphosa announced in an address to the nation.
“The sale of tobacco products will remain prohibited in alert Level-3 due to the health risks associated with smoking,” he added.
A government minister, Ms. Dlamini-Zuma, a doctor who served as health minister in the 1990s and is now cooperative governance minister, said that besides the effects itself on the person’s lungs, there were concerns that smoking could promote coronavirus infection.
The way sometimes tobacco “is shared does not allow for social distancing,” she added, but actually “encourages the spread of the virus”
South Africa started gradually easing confinement measures on May 1, allowing citizens to exercise outdoors in the morning and some businesses to partially resume operations.
Ramaphosa said the alert level would now be lowered from Level-4 to Level-3 from June 1, with a “differentiated approach” to deal with “coronavirus hotspots.”
Most sectors of the economy will be able to reopen fully under “strict health protocols” and “social distancing rules.”
A night-time curfew will be lifted and outdoor exercise allowed at any time during the day.
Public gatherings will remain prohibited, however, and certain “high-risk economic activities” such as restaurants, bars and hairdressing salons will stay closed for the time being.
Air travel is still blocked, except for specific exemptions for certain business trips.
The main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party said Level-3 had come “six weeks too late” and caused “irreparable damage” to the economy.
“Even now… the irrational regulations and exclusions remain,” said DA leader John Steenhuisen in a statement.
“There is also no reason at all for cigarettes to remain banned, as most smokers have not given up smoking and are simply buying their illicit cigarettes elsewhere.”
Ramaphosa reiterated government plans to allow schools to reopen for senior years from June 1, and said one third of university students would also be allowed back on campus.
He identified seven cities as “coronavirus hotspots”, including the administrative capital Pretoria, the financial hub Johannesburg and the coastal city of Cape Town.
“The list of hotspot areas will be reviewed every two weeks depending on the progression of the virus,” the president said.
“Any part of the country could be returned to alert Level-4 or Level-5 if the spread of infections is not contained,” he warned.
South Africa went into lockdown at the start of its coronavirus outbreak to delay an expected peak in infections and allow hospitals to prepare.
Ramaphosa said that around 20,000 beds were being repurposed for COVID-19 patients and 27 field hospitals built across the country.
To date 842 COVID-19 patients are in hospital, including 128 in intensive care.
The lockdown would only delay the spread of coronavirus but it would not be able to stop it, said the president, adding that one-third of the country’s cumulative cases had been recorded over the past week alone.