Cooperative governance minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma says that the government is proceeding with caution when it comes to opening up alcohol sales in South Africa under lockdown level 1.
Responding to questions around the restriction of the sale of alcohol on weekends under the new regulations, Dlamini-Zuma said government has learnt lessons from the past.
“Alcohol sales are restricted so that we don’t do it in a ‘bang’ and find that there are unforeseen problems as there have been in the past,” she said.
The minister references when alcohol sales opened up the first time, under lockdown level 3. She said when that happened, trauma cases went up, which later led to sales again being banned temporarily.
At the time, hospitals were under severe pressure, she said. Despite healthcare facilities not being under the same pressure now, the government was learning from the past and opted to proceed with caution.
Alcohol sales will open up gradually, she said.
When asked about criticism from those operating in the alcohol industry such as wine farms, who say that the weekend prohibitions would negatively impact their businesses, Dlamini-Zuma said there were no exemptions to the regulations.
She said that selling alcohol for off-site consumption was restricted between Monday and Friday. For those who sell liquor for on-site consumption are limited only by the curfew.
Wine sellers have said that the continued restriction of alcohol sales on weekends will have an extremely negative impact on the sustainability of wine farms which attract a large number of visitors and tourists, particularly over those times.
Wine farms rely on direct sales from cellars for home consumption and that the industry is being denied an opportunity to recover economically.
Regarding the curfew, Dlamini-Zuma said that the government does not want people sitting at pubs and restaurants for “hours and hours”, drinking.
“This leads to chaos,” she said. “When people start drinking, they get drunk, they forget the mask, they forget social distancing. You don’t want that chaos to continue right into the morning.”
She said with the curfew people at least have a time frame where they know they have to leave a venue and go home. She said this logic applies to all gatherings, not just pubs and restaurants – adding that it’s a misconception to think the pandemic is over and everything is safe.
“Some of the countries that are now back up to 10,000 infections were down to a few hundred, and they thought everything was okay.
“We need to understand that we are not out of the woods…the storm is still on. We can’t just open the whole night for people to drink and sit together for hours and hours. That’s why there are still limits in gatherings – those are the places that will still spread the virus,” she said.
“The logic is that the pandemic is still very much still with us, so we have to go cautiously forward.”