As South Africa’s virus spikes, president bans liquor sales

In a nationwide address Monday night, the president also announced the closure of all beaches and public swimming pools in the country’s infection hotspots, which include Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and several coastal areas.

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This file photo taken on March 30, 2020 shows an elderly man from Soweto, covering his face with a face shield while queueing at a SASSA (South African Social Security Agency) pay-point in Soweto.

This file photo taken on March 30, 2020 shows an elderly man from Soweto, covering his face with a face shield while queueing at a SASSA (South African Social Security Agency) pay-point in Soweto. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on December 28, 2020 announced a ban on alcohol sales and said mask-wearing would be mandatory in public as his country became the continent’s first to record one million coronavirus cases. Ramaphosa said during a televised speech that alcohol would be temporarily banned from midnight to help emergency services already under pressure. He also announced it would be “compulsory for every person to wear mask in public spaces,” saying it was a “drastic measure, now necessary”.

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JOHANNESBURG — South African President Cyril Ramaphosa reimposed a ban on alcohol sales and ordered the closure of all bars Monday as part of new restrictions to help the country battle a resurgence of the coronavirus, including a new variant.

In a nationwide address, Ramaphosa also announced the closure of all beaches and public swimming pools in the country’s infection hotspots, which include Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and several coastal areas.

South Africa will extend its nighttime curfew so all residents must be at home from 9 p.m. until 6 a.m., the president said.

The president said that wearing masks is mandatory and that anyone found not wearing a mask in a public place will be subject to a fine or a criminal charge punishable by a possible jail sentence.

Ramaphosa said the increased restrictions are necessary because of a surge in COVID-19 infections which has pushed South Africa’s cumulative virus cases above 1 million.

Ramaphosa announced the new measures after a Cabinet meeting and an emergency meeting of the National Coronavirus Command Council.

The country surpassed the 1 million mark in confirmed virus cases on Sunday night, when authorities reported that the country’s total cases during the pandemic had reached 1,004,413, including 26,735 deaths.

Like Britain, South Africa is battling a variant of COVID-19 that medical experts think is more infectious than the original. The variant has become dominant in many parts of the country, according to experts.

The South African Medical Association, which represents nurses and other health workers as well as doctors, warned Monday that the health system was on the verge of being overwhelmed by the combination of higher numbers of COVID-19 patients and people needing urgent care from alcohol-related incidents. Many holiday gatherings involve high levels of alcohol consumption, which in turn often lead to increased trauma cases.

“To alleviate the pressure on the system during this time of the year, where we only have skeleton staff working, especially in the public sector, as well as in the private sector, we are asking for stricter restrictions regarding social gatherings,” Angelique Coetzee, chairwoman of the medical association told The Associated Press.

“South Africa has got a history of very high alcohol abuse and binge drinking, especially over the weekends. In certain areas that leads to a lot of trauma cases, assaults, motor vehicle accidents and domestic violence,” she said.

The medical association has called on the government to impose stricter restrictions on the sale of alcohol, especially where large gatherings are concerned.

When South Africa previously had a total ban on liquor sales, trauma cases in hospitals dropped by as much as 60%, according to government statistics. When the ban on alcohol sales was lifted, trauma cases went back up to previous levels.

Amid a resurgence of COVID-19 in early December, South Africa limited sales of alcohol to Monday through Thursday between the hours of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. The country also has a nightly 11 p.m.-4 a.m. curfew.

Various alcohol traders had pleaded with the government to avoid a total ban on alcohol sales, citing the economic damage it would cause. South Africa’s alcohol industry was among those hardest hit when the country imposed a hard lockdown during April and May that also banned all liquor sales.

South Africa’s 7-day rolling average of confirmed daily cases has risen over the past two weeks from 11.18 new cases per 100,000 people on Dec. 13 to 19.87 new cases per 100,000 people on Dec. 27.

The 7-day rolling average of daily deaths in the country has risen over the past two weeks from 0.26 deaths per 100,000 people on Dec. 13 to 0.49 deaths per 100,000 people on Dec. 27.

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