Leaks from the behind-closed-doors deliberations of the government’s increasingly controversial National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) suggest Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma is lobbying for an extension of the liquor and cigarette ban until South Africa reaches level 1 of the lockdown.

It is not clear when that might be – but Free Market Foundation CEO Leon Louw predicted: ‘The pandemic will be with us in some form until next year, so don’t expect tobacco sales to be unbanned before 2021.’

Meanwhile, police minister Bheki Cele said that though it was not illegal to smoke at home, the police would ask anyone smoking in public to provide a receipt showing where and when their cigarettes were bought.

‘It is not illegal to smoke cigarettes in your house. The only problem is when you fail to show us when and where you got the cigarettes. Buying cigarettes and the sale is illegal. Until those regulations are removed it will remain an offence to do such,’ he was quoted as saying in an IOL report.

Positive cases rose by 988 to 20 125, and the death toll rose to 397.

News24 reported yesterday that it had been ‘reliably told’ that Dlamini-Zuma, citing health risks, had told the NCCC that the ban on selling tobacco and alcohol should continue until the country reached level 1 of the lockdown.

She was reportedly supported by Home Affairs Minister Aaron Motsoaledi – the former health minister.

A ‘reliable insider’ said that ‘even Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, who initially supported the ban, seemed to have come to terms with the fact that cigarettes and alcohol should be allowed with strict conditions under Level 3’.

The debate in the NCCC, chaired by President Cyril Ramaphosa, did not reach a decision.

‘The discussion goes on and on and there is no finality,’ the ‘insider’ was reported as saying.

eNCA reported that top government health advisor Professor Salim Abdool Karim said South Africa was ready to move down to level 3 lockdown, and that the peak of infection could be lowered if people stuck to social distancing and hand sanitising.

‘If we adopt the current strategies of social distancing,  hand sanitising, wearing our masks when we go into shopping malls and public transport, we could be in a situation where we have a lower peak than what is predicted,’ he was quoted as saying.

The government’s ‘prohibition’ approach was criticised in a guest column on News24 by Christopher Snowdon, head of lifestyle economics at the UK’s Institute for Economic Affairs and author of The Art of Suppression: Pleasure, Panic and Prohibition since 1800. He pointed out that where the Ramaphosa administration defended the alcohol ban on the grounds that it ‘reduced the number of hospital admissions, traffic accidents and murders … other countries have also seen fewer injuries, car crashes and crime without having to resort to prohibition’.

Snowdon said: ‘South Africa, crippled by decades of corruption and an economy in crisis, cannot afford to let blind dogma trump the social and economic arguments for lifting prohibition immediately. A century after the US began its disastrous attempt to eradicate drinking, the facts have not changed. Prohibition does not prohibit. It enriches criminals, robs governments of much-needed tax revenue, cultivates opportunities for public sector corruption, and puts people out of work.  

‘The current ban is dangerous, costly and self-defeating. Perhaps every generation needs to learn the lessons of prohibition anew. It is a shame that the South African government has decided to learn the hard way.’

The petition calling on Ramaphosa to overturn the ban on cigarettes had received nearly 550 000 signatures on Thursday.

In other virus-related news

  • The BBC reported that Brazil’s death toll reached 20 047 as fears grew that Latin America could become the pandemic’s next epicenter. Countries including Mexico, Chile and Peru were also struggling to contain major outbreaks; and
  • The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released new guidance warning that around 35% of coronavirus carriers show no symptoms. The federal health agency added that its their ‘best estimate’ was that 0.4% of people who felt ill would die and that about 40% of transmissions were occurring before people even felt unwell.

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