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South Africa allows alcohol sales once again

There was relief and joy in the South African drinks industry last night after President Cyril Ramaphosa (once again) lifted the ban on selling alcohol and said restaurants and bars could re-open.

Sales of alcohol and tobacco are to be allowed from today (17 August), along with a removal of “nearly all restrictions” on economic activities, including the re-opening of the country’s on-trade.

Alcohol can be sold for home consumption from Monday to Thursday only for now and no alcohol can be sold or served after 10pm.

Gatherings of more than 50 people are still restricted and a night time curfew is still in effect.

Nonetheless, this is good news for South Africa’s drinks industry, and those involved in winemaking most especially, which has had an unpleasant rollercoaster ride through a series of bans imposed, lifted and imposed again as the government there sought to tackle the spread of Covid-19.

Back on 26 March South Africa banned both the domestic sale of alcoholic products as well as all wine exports.

The export ban was lifted on 7 April only to be imposed again on 16 April, then re-allowed once more on 1 May.

On 26 May meanwhile, the government announced that retailers could open again and recommence the sale of alcohol for at-home consumption.

The government said shortly afterwards that the change in tack had caused a spike in alcohol related harm and injury which was placing a burden on hospitals at a time when the country seemed to be heading towards peak infections and so sales were banned for a second time on 12 July.

The combined cost in monetary terms and jobs for the South African drinks industry as a whole has been immense, with revenue loss pegged as high as R18 billion (£852 million) back in July, with a cost to the government of several billion rands worth of excise tax and 18,000 jobs lost.

Over the course of July and early August, pressure from the trade and regional governments, especially in the Western Cape, to allow alcohol and tobacco sales began to mount.

With domestic sales banned, word has filtered out into export markets to ‘buy South African’ and this summer has seen several initiatives designed to support the country’s industry, ranging from WOSA’s ‘Spectacular South Africa’ campaign, the ‘Great British Braai Off’ weekend and Waitrose offering a specially put together case of South African wine with a discount which proved very popular.

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