PRIME Minister Moeketsi Majoro has lifted the ban on alcohol sales with effect from tomorrow as the country’s Covid-19 infection rates slow down.
The government first banned alcohol sales during the national lockdown from 30 March to 5 May 2020. It said the move was part of measures to contain the spread of the deadly Covid-19 pandemic.
After the lifting of the ban in May, it was then reinstated on 20 July 2020 as Covid-19 infections began rising exponentially.
In a Covid-19 update on Thursday evening, Dr Majoro said the sale of alcohol would be allowed from 9am to 7pm during week days only. He said the country’s reproduction rate of the virus had slowed down to 1.27 from last month’s 2.04. The reproduction rate is the rate at which an infected person can pass the virus to another person.
The 1.27 rate means one infected person now has the potential of only infecting less than two people.
Dr Majoro said liquor traders would only be allowed to serve takeaways.
“Liqour traders will be allowed to operate from Monday to Friday between 9am and 7pm and for takeaways only,” Dr Majoro said.
He said one consumer would be allowed to purchase a maximum of 1.5 cases of beer; a maximum of six litres of wine and a maximum of one litre of whiskeys and spirits.
While the infection rate has fallen, he said Lesotho was not yet out of the woods.
“Many activities that we had previously closed will now be allowed to resume but we have not yet arrived at a position where we can confidently say we are in control of the Covid-19 situation.
“We are only relaxing restrictions to address the challenges of hunger and poverty that are threatening our people. We had to consider whether people should stay at home and be killed by hunger or by Covid-19.”
Lesotho Liquor and Restaurant Owners Association (LLROA) President, Motseki Nkeane, welcomed Dr Majoro’s announcement.
He said they were relieved as the liquor industry had suffered a lot due to the negative consequences of the ban of alcohol sales.
He said any prolonged ban on alcohol sales would have plunged the industry into further financial distress.
He said the lifting of the ban was influenced by the talks that took place between liquor industry captains and the National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) last Tuesday.
Mr Nkeane, however, said they would not abandon the court case they launched for the nullification of the government’s ban on the sale of alcohol. LLROA filed the case last week saying at least 25 000 people were affected by the alcohol ban. He said the case would help achieve clarity with regards to any similar bans in the future.
It its urgent application in the High Court, LLROA said the ban was unlawful and had adversely affected its members. It said unless the ban was revoked, its members would be financially ruined and forced to close down their businesses.
The case, which was initially set to be heard last Wednesday, has since been postponed to this Tuesday.
“The government’s decision to open the sales of alcohol and the accompanying conditions are part of what we agreed on with NACOSEC.
“We will only stop pursuing our court case after perusing through the upcoming Covid-19 regulations with regards to alcohol sales. After getting hold of the gazette, we will then map the way forward regarding the case.”
Mr Nkeane said the liquor industry had undertaken to ensure adherence and compliance to Covid-19 health and safety protocols during trading to reduce the spread of the deadly virus.