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South Africa Lifts Alcohol and Tobacco Ban

Across the country enthusiastic customers thronged alcohol stores and shops selling cigarettes, which could also be sold once more. Despite one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, South Africa has been badly hit by the Covid-19 pandemic, with almost 600,000 cases and a death toll believed to be much higher than the official figure of 12,000. The sale and transport of alcohol and cigarettes was forbidden in late March, although the ban was briefly lifted in June. The ban was justified as necessary to prevent gatherings that would accelerate the spread of the virus, and to protect the overstretched health service, which otherwise would have to deal with high levels of alcohol-related attacks, injuries and illnesses. Ministers also said the practice of sharing cigarettes posed a significant risk. Although the bans on alcohol and cigarettes were controversial, figures released by the police minister, Gen Bheki Cele, last week showed a steep drop in most crimes during the lockdown, especially murder and assault, and research in the Western Cape province showed that trauma admissions to hospitals dropped by half. The prohibition of alcohol was a major factor in both. However, critics have highlighted massive economic damage to key industries and an enormous growth in illicit sales.