Government could ban alcohol but allow gatherings of 5,000 people for Easter weekend – Report

The South African government is considering greatly increasing limits on gatherings of people while reintroducing an alcohol ban for the incoming Easter weekend as part of revised temporary COVID-19 lockdown measures.

This is according to a report in The Sunday Times, citing two senior sources familiar with discussions at meetings of the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) this week.

According to the sources, the government is weighing allowing outdoor gatherings of up to 5,000 people, and 1,000 for indoor gatherings, to cater towards religious groupings who have Easter plans.

“This is specifically for churches,” one NCCC member told The Sunday Times.

He said the option of allowing 5,000 people outdoors and 1,000 indoors received “fierce opposition”.

Another proposal included a limit of 500 people for indoor gatherings and 1,000 outdoors, while another suggested 250 for indoor gatherings, and 500 for outdoor events.

Under current level 1 restrictions, indoor gatherings are limited to 100 people while a maximum of 250 are allowed for outdoor occasions.

The NCC member said while there was disagreement around increasing the number of people and limiting interprovincial travel to curb the spread of COVID-19, almost all members agreed on banning the sale of alcohol over Easter.

It should be noted that none of these options have been finalised, with President Cyril Ramaphosa only expected to meet with premiers from the country’s various provinces on Monday before tabling the temporary measures before cabinet.

Alcohol ban will collapse industry

Meanwhile, the COVID-19 ministerial advisory committee has recommended that South Africa be moved to level 2 temporarily during Easter.

This would restrict all gatherings to a maximum of 50 people, move the curfew two hours earlier, and only allow for the sale of alcohol for off-site consumption between Monday and Thursday.

The curbing of alcohol sales has been viewed as a measure to reduce trauma cases and alleviate strain on hospitals throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the South African Liquor Brand Owners Association  (SALBA) on Friday warned that another alcohol ban would have a devastating impact on the industry.

SALBA chairperson Sibani Mngadi told Newzroom Africa that the three alcohol bans over the last year crushed the alcohol industry, with R38 billion in sales lost while the government missed out on R9 billion in taxes.

The association has presented an alternative proposal for dealing with short-term pressure on hospitals during a COVID-19 surge while maintaining economic viability of the alcohol industry.

These recommendations for the Easter weekend include:

  • Applying a 23:00 to 04:00 curfew.
  • Reducing permitted numbers for gatherings to a 50% of capacity, and a maximum of 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors.
  • Allowing interprovincial travel to protect the economic recovery and growth in the tourism and hospitality sector.
  • Alcohol sales should continue under current licence conditions, with restrictions being introduced only if hospital capacity becomes severely stretched.

Now read: Ramaphosa slams South African banks for “disappointing” COVID-19 response

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Government could ban alcohol but allow gatherings of 5,000 people for Easter weekend – Report