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South Africa’s Ramaphosa rejects calls to lift booze ban

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday rejected mounting calls for him to lift the ban on the sale of alcohol imposed as part of the coronavirus lockdown rules.

An association of tavern and shebeen owners representing about 20,000 micro and small businesses threatened legal action if regulations on alcohol sales were not relaxed, arguing the lockdown was destroying their business.

“The presidency has declined the request,” to resume selling alcohol during the lockdown, said a statement from his office.

“The restriction on the sale of liquor will remain.”

Pressure has been rising for government to ease the prohibition of alcohol sales in the country, which according to a World Health Organisation 2016 report, is among the top heaviest consuming nations.

The country is entering the fourth week of a five-week lockdown aimed at containing the spread of the coronavirus which has infected 2,783, including 50 fatalities.

Several shuttered liquor outlets have been looted since shutdown was imposed last month.

Police minister Bheki Cele at the weekend said there had been at 16 reports of raids on liquor stores in South Africa’s Western Cape province, home to the city of Cape Town.

Rejecting the demand to reopen alcohol sales, Ramaphosa’s offices said alcohol was not an “essential good” and was a hindrance to the fight against the 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 private and public resources should be preparing to receive and treat vast number of Covid-19 patients,” said the statement.

He urged alcohol industry representatives to apply for financial relief aid from government.