JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday refused to lift a ban on alcohol during a nationwide lockdown set to last until the end of April, brushing off a threat of court action from an industry body.
The sale of alcohol and cigarettes has been prohibited in South Africa since the start of the lockdown on March 27, sparking wide debate over the merits of such a move.
The Gauteng Liquor Forum (GLF), which says it represents thousands of small businesses, has threatened court action over the impact of the decision on its members. It gave Ramaphosa until Friday to respond to concerns or else it would launch its case.
But the president said in a statement the ban would remain in place, with alcohol considered “a hindrance to the fight against coronavirus”.
“There are proven links between the sale and consumption of alcohol and violent crime, motor vehicle accidents and other medical emergencies at a time when all public and private resources should be preparing to receive and treat vast numbers of COVID-19 patients,” the statement said.
It added that while the GLF’s representations had been carefully considered, a number of other bodies, including organisations in the liquor industry, supported the ban.
A lawyer for GLF did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The move to ban sales of alcohol and cigarettes has helped make South Africa’s lockdown one of the most prohibitive. Citizens are only allowed to leave their homes to buy food or for health reasons, with even outdoor exercise banned. Enforcement, however, is patchy.
Liquor shops have been looted and there has been an increase in online searches on how to brew alcohol at home, while taverns, shebeens and others selling alcohol have like many companies across the country had their operations crippled by the lockdown.
(Reporting by Emma Rumney; Editing by David Holmes)