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South African restaurants protest virus lockdown restrictions

South Africa restaurateurs protested on Wednesday against a coronavirus curfew and an alcohol ban that they said were wrecking their industry.

President Cyril Ramaphosa imposed a lockdown in March, restricting movement and gatherings.

He loosened some of the restrictions in June, allowing restaurants to reopen, initially for take-out and then for sit-down dining.

But last week, as numbers of infections surged, he brought back a night time curfew that starts at 1900 GMT, and banned afresh the sale of alcohol.

“What the government has put in place has been knee-capping,” Sean Barber, founder of the Rockets chain of restaurants, told AFP.

“It has literally wiped out our dinner trade. It’s decimating our industry,” he said.

Waving a placard with the inscription “#JobsSaveLives”, 32-year-old waiter Divine Moyo remarked “open we are, but normal is not the case”.

Many patrons were still sceptical about dining out, but lockdown measures have added to the eateries’ woes.

“It’s just been quiet,” lamented Moyo. “I’m going to bed hungry, my family is struggling.”

In Cape Town, a city popular with tourists, restaurant owners laid out rows of empty tables and chairs along pavements or in the middle of streets in what they dubbed a “One Million Seats on the Streets” demonstration.

The industry employs an estimated 800,000 people.

Restaurant Association of South Africa CEO Wendy Alberts said nearly a third of restaurants had already shuttered since the onset of lockdown and more closures were looming.

Her members want the government to urgently consider “lifting the liquor ban, having the curfew lifted”, among other demands.

“We want them (government) to consider just giving us a glass or two of wine with a main meal ordered. We want them to take the curfew away, (and) to allow us to just let our businesses to survive this,” said Jo-Ann Hinis, co-owner of Espresso cafe and bistro in Johannesburg.

Some of the placards carried during the protests read “#SaveOurIndustry” and “No Booze, we all loose.”