South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is preparing to ease lockdown restrictions, including the possible scrapping of an alcohol sales ban, according to people familiar with the matter.
The country will move to so-called alert level 2, although details of which curbs will be retained are still being worked out, said four of the people, asking not to be identified because the information hasn’t been made public. Two said a decision had been taken to allow alcohol to be sold, two said the tobacco-sales ban would be scrapped and one said travel restrictions would be relaxed.
“The measures that we have put in place have been working, and we are seeing a tapering off of the number of infections,” said Lungi Mtshali, a spokesman for the Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Ministry, which administers the lockdown rules. “The numbers are going down, and regular assessments will be done to open up the economy when ready.”
Tyrone Seale, Ramaphosa’s acting spokesman, said he couldn’t immediately comment.
Most businesses were shuttered for five weeks from late March, when the government imposed one of the world’s most severe lockdowns to curb the spread of the coronavirus. Infections skyrocketed after the restrictions were progressively eased to allow most people to return to work and the country has now had 566,109 confirmed cases, the fifth-most in the world.
Remaining so-called alert level 3 restrictions include bans on inter-provincial travel, alcohol and tobacco sales, family visits and social gatherings. The government may decide to limit the amount of alcohol and tobacco individuals can buy, one of the people said.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said in a radio interview on Wednesday that the lockdown rules should be eased because there have been declines in cases in the four most-populous provinces. In addition, doctors are now expecting fatalities to be lower than previously feared.
The lockdown has had a devastating effect on Africa’s most industrialized economy, with both the central bank and National Treasury anticipating it will contract more than 7% this year. A study by a group of 30 academics and researchers estimated that 3 million people lost their jobs between February and April, while 1.5 million others were furloughed.
Many wine businesses have already closed down and an extension of the alcohol sales ban would wipe out those that are still operating, casting tens of thousands of people out of work, according to Vinpro, an industry body.
“Our producers are already preparing for the 2021 wine harvest,” Rico Basson, the group’s managing director, said in an emailed statement. “However, with close to 300 million liters (79,251 gallons) of surplus wine still in cellar tanks, we might not have space for the new crop. The situation is dire.”