South Africa closed bars and banned liquor sales on Dec. 28 as COVID-19 cases surged in the country.
President Cyril Ramaphosa described the new restrictions as a necessity in a public address.
“More than 50,000 new cases have been reported since Christmas Eve,” he noted. Ramaphosa pointed to social events and family gatherings as key contributors to South Africa’s COVID-19 case tally. The country passed one million total cases on Dec. 27.
The rapid rise in infections is being fuelled by so-called super-spreader events, including like end-of-year functions, family and social gatherings, and music and cultural events. This is a cause for great alarm and points to an extreme lack of vigilance over the holiday period.
— Cyril Ramaphosa ???????? #StaySafe (@CyrilRamaphosa) December 28, 2020
Doctors believe that banning liquor sales will free them up from treating alcohol-related injuries to respond to the COVID spike. “To alleviate the pressure on the system during this time of the year… we are asking for stricter restrictions regarding social gatherings,” Angelique Coetzee, chairwoman of the South African Medical Alliance, told the Associated Press.
Coetzee went on to explain that South Africa’s binge drinking culture leads to especially high rates of car crashes and domestic violence around the holidays. South Africa also banned liquor sales in response to COVID-19 earlier in 2020. Then, hospitals reported that trauma cases dropped 60%. Crime dropped 40% overall in South Africa during a lockdown imposed in April and May, according to BBC. (Men Tunnel Into Liquor Store After South Africa Bans Alcohol Sales)
The appearance of a more infectious strain of coronavirus has worried South African officials in recent weeks. In addition to banning liquor sales, President Ramaphosa extended a nationwide curfew between 9 pm and 6 am, closed pools and beaches in COVID hotspots, and limited funerals to 50 attendees.