As South Africa's virus spikes, president bans liquor sales

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FILE In this Thursday, Dec. 24, 2020 file photo people wear face masks to protect against COVID-19 before boarding a minibus taxi in Johannesburg. In a television address to the nation Monday, Dec. 28, 2020, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the country would revert to level 3 of a strict lockdown in a bid to control a surge in the virus and it would be compulsory to wear face masks in public. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell/File)

JOHANNESBURG – South African President Cyril Ramaphosa reimposed a ban on alcohol sales and ordered the closure of all bars Monday as part of new restrictions to help the country battle a resurgence of the coronavirus, including a new variant.

Ramaphosa also announced the closure of all beaches and public swimming pools in the country’s infection hotspots, which include Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban and several coastal areas. In addition, South Africa is extending its nighttime curfew by four hours, requiring all residents must be at home from 9 p.m. until 6 a.m., the president said.

“Reckless behavior due to alcohol intoxication has contributed to increased transmission. Alcohol-related accidents and violence are putting pressure on our hospital emergency units,” Ramaphosa said in a nationwide address.

“As we had to in the early days of the lockdown, we now have to flatten the curve to protect the capacity of our healthcare system to enable it to respond effectively to this new wave of infections," he said.

Ramaphosa said the ban on selling alcohol and other new restrictions would take effect at midnight. They include the mandatory wearing of masks in public, and anyone found not wearing a mask in a public place will be subject to a fine or a criminal charge punishable by a possible jail sentence, the president said.

Ramaphosa said the increased restrictions are necessary because of a surge in COVID-19 infections which has pushed South Africa’s total confirmed virus cases past 1 million.

“Nearly 27,000 South Africans are known to have died from COVID-19. The number of new coronavirus infections is climbing at an unprecedented rate,” he said. “More than 50,000 new cases have been reported since Christmas Eve.”

Ramaphosa announced the new measures after a Cabinet meeting and an emergency meeting of the National Coronavirus Command Council. He said the new restrictions would be reviewed in a few weeks and a relaxation would only be considered when the numbers of new cases and hospitalizations decrease.