South Africa lifts alcohol ban as COVID rules ease

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has eased some restrictions imposed due to coronavirus, including lifting an unpopular ban on alcohol sales.

Beaches will reopen and limited religious gatherings will be allowed.

The announcement came as Mr. Ramaphosa hailed the arrival of the first shipment of vaccines – one million AstraZeneca doses – as a chance to “turn the tide” on Covid-19.

South Africa has had the most Covid infections and deaths on the continent.

More than 1.4 million people have contracted the virus since the pandemic began, and 44,164 are known to have lost their lives, according to Johns Hopkins University research.

Many countries have banned travel from South Africa in an effort to stop the spread of the highly infectious 501Y.V2 variant, which is believed to have originated there and which is suspected to be more resistant to vaccines.

How have restrictions eased?

The country will remain in what is termed a level 3 lockdown, but a number of restrictions that had been in place will end.

Retail outlets can now sell alcohol between 10:00 and 18:00 from Monday to Thursday, and licensed outlets can serve drinks on-site from 10:00 to 22:00 when they must close.

Curfew hours will now be from 23:00 to 04:00.

South Africans have faced three alcohol bans since the pandemic hit last March, the last was imposed on 28 December.

The government argues it was necessary to alleviate the pressure on the healthcare system.

The bans have not been popular among many in the public and the liquor industry said millions of jobs were at risk.

Announcing the latest changes, Mr. Ramaphosa said: “I want to call on all of us to drink responsibly so that we do not experience a spike in trauma cases or an increase in infections due to reckless behavior.”

In additional relaxations of rules, 50 people can now worship indoors and 100 outdoors.

Beaches, rivers, parks, and swimming pools will reopen.

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