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S.Africa lifts booze and tobacco sales ban as restrictions ease

South Africa will lift its coronavirus-linked ban on the sale of alcohol and tobacco products next week, President Cyril Ramaphosa said Saturday, announcing the removal of "nearly all restrictions" on economic activities.

The virus-related ban on the purchase of booze and cigarettes has been controversial, and no other country has introduced both measures together.

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It came into effect when South Africa went into a strict nationwide lockdown on March 27 to stem the spread of coronavirus.

Alcohol sales were prohibited to ease pressure on hospitals, allowing doctors in emergency wards to focus on Covid-19 rather than road accidents and other booze-related injuries.

Tobacco products were restricted because of the health impacts of smoking as well as the risk of contamination between people sharing cigarettes.

While tobacco sales have been forbidden since the start of lockdown, alcohol purchases were tentatively re-authorised in June and banned again when cases spiked the following month.

"Restrictions on the sale of tobacco will be lifted, the suspension of the sale of alcohol will be lifted subject to certain restrictions," Ramaphosa said as he addressed the nation, adding that significant progress had been made against the disease.

The new measures will come into effect on Monday.

South Africa still has the fifth-highest number of coronavirus cases in the world, with 583,653 infections registered to date.

At least 11,677 are known to have died from the disease.

But Ramaphosa noted that the number of new daily confirmed cases had dropped from a peak of over 12,000 to an average of 5,000 over the past week.

The number of active cases has declined to around 105,000 and the recovery rate risen to 80 percent.