Churches, alcohol industry cross fingers ahead of Ramaphosa expected address
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Johannesburg - With President Cyril Ramaphosa expected to address the nation ahead of the Easter weekend, speculation is rife as to what measures his administration will put in place to curb a possible increase in Covid-19 infections.
Talks around Ramaphosa’s address began last week as the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) wrapped up discussions about how best to handle the upcoming holiday season.
Acting minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni confirmed the discussions: “The NCCC is considering what measures should be taken during that period. We cannot discuss the advice provided by the ministerial advisory committee. There are plans on the table that are being considered and when the time is right we all know that the president will convene a family meeting.”
Ramaphosa’s spokesperson, Tyrone Seale, said there were rumours about Ramaphosa’s pending address but would not confirm when the address would take place.
“I can confirm there are rumours. No, the government continues to monitor conditions in the country around the pandemic and decisions made are based on those findings,” Seale said.
Ahead of the address, key industries have voiced their concerns and desires.
The liquor industry has come out strongly against reports that an alcohol ban could be on the cards.
The SA Liquor Brandowners Association (Salba) said it wanted to see scientific evidence justifying a liquor restriction or ban.
The association's chairperson, Sibani Mngadi, said: “The only outcomes the country can expect from the decisions to increase gathering and ban alcohol sales is the hastening of the onset of the third wave of Covid-19 pandemic while further collapsing the struggling economy.
“Job losses as a result of these unjustified bans are exceptionally damaging to society and the economy," Mngadi said.
Meanwhile, the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance, which has been calling for tougher sale alcohol measures, said it was not advocating a ban on alcohol.
The alliance's director, Maurice Smithers, said the government should take caution from the December upsurge in cases and limit sales during the Easter weekend.
“We strongly believe that if you want targeted interventions, which are going to discourage the excessive consumption of alcohol but still allow access, then you will achieve the same effect without having a complete ban,” Smithers said.
The church industry has also called for an increase in numbers at gatherings.
Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana said the South African Council of Churches (SACC) had been meeting weekly ahead of the Easter holidays to come up with a solid plan to propose to the government.
“One of the things the churches were requesting is that the number of worshippers must be half the number of the square metres of the venue,” he said.
Mpumlwana said churches have also decided not to have central worship, and each branch should worship in their setting.
“Recently there was a meeting with the president and Cabinet with leaders of the religious faith. All of us said we would like an increase to half the square metres of the venue,” Mpumlwana said.
A possible increase in gatherings could also pose a danger to efforts to curb the virus, warned Dr Aslam Dasoo, the convenor of the Progressive Health Forum.
"I think right now the number for indoor (gatherings) which cannot exceed 50% capacity and 250 for outdoor gatherings is a result of a push and pull. This was a change from the previous guideline of 50. Frankly, that’s just playing with numbers because you are going to get spread.
“The demand by sectors, like churches and those who wish to congregate, make it difficult to resist. I think whatever plans they (the government) have for Easter should restrict all religious and other kinds of gatherings to what it is now, certainly not more than it is now,” Dasoo advised.