Many national and regional governments have changed their policies on the sale of alcohol in response to the current coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. These policies and regulatory changes vary widely in their scope; some governments have limited sales hours, others have closed hospitality venues, some have allowed takeaway sales only, and some have banned alcohol sales altogether. The reasons given for these restrictions similarly vary; many governments have said the measures are to ensure social distancing, others cite concerns about domestic violence.
Some of these restrictions were reversed within days; in some cases, governments have eased restrictions to help protect the economy, in others, the public have protested strongly against the restrictions. For example:
- In Aisne, northern France, a ban on alcohol sales was overturned within a day.
- In South Africa, the government partially lifted a ban to allow for the wine harvest.
- In India, the national government reversed a countrywide alcohol ban after pressure from state authorities.
Several governments have even tightened restrictions on sales further, stating that venues and the public were not complying with their guidelines.
However, in some countries, governments have eased tax and production regulations to enable alcohol producers to help address the global shortage of hand sanitizer. For example:
- The Government of Japan changed its regulations to allow the use of high-ABV beverages as a substitute for sanitizer
- Belgium’s federal government adopted new rules allowing producers to make sanitizer.
- Uganda, Poland, and Moldova temporarily suspended excise taxes for producers making sanitizer.
Reversals of restrictions on alcohol sales
Some countries and regions introduced bans or restrictions on alcohol as part of their response to COVID-19, and later eased or cancelled them. Although some of these reversals had been planned and announced in advance, others were less expected.
In late March, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced that the island’s entire hospitality sector would close indefinitely as the public were not observing social distancing correctly: for example, removing their masks in bars. The order caused uproar in the hospitality sector, with immediate calls for subsidies to cover rent and salaries in the event of closures.
The government reversed its position within days. Lam told the press that closure was “just a suggestion” that had been dropped after consultations with the sector; instead, venues would observe strict new distancing regulations. However, there was another reversal a week later and all bars and restaurants were closed for two weeks to curb the spread of the virus.
At the start of April, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha spoke to several ministries about nationally banning alcohol sales under its COVID-19 state of emergency. However, some of Thailand’s 77 provincial governments had already banned or restricted alcohol sales; within weeks, all provinces had banned alcohol sales until April 30.
After several conflicting announcements about extending the bans, the prime minister approved a national alcohol ban throughout May. However, on May 1, the National Security Council unexpectedly announced that all alcohol sales bans would be lifted from May 3.
In the USA, many states restricted hospitality sector alcohol sales but only Pennsylvania restricted retail sales. In mid-March, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) temporarily closed its state-run liquor store monopoly Fine Wine & Good Spirits; this meant that spirits and most wines were not available in the state, although some wine and beer was still available from groceries and supermarkets. Soon, the media reported that many people were driving to neighboring states to buy alcohol. DISCUS and the American Distilled Spirits Alliance (ADSA) urged Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf to reconsider the decision, and wine dealers sued the PLCB over the closures.
In early April, the PLCB started taking “limited” orders online but its website could not cope with demand. Soon after, it reopened almost 200 of its 600 stores. After taking a record $2.3 million during the first three days of reopening, it reopened nearly all its remaining stores.
On March 24, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi gave only four hours’ notice that the country would be on total lockdown for three weeks, with alcohol sales banned nationwide. Trade associations soon urged state governments around the country to reopen liquor stores to deter rising unrecorded-alcohol consumption and safeguard tax revenues.
Within a few weeks, some states had allowed restricted alcohol sales. However, on April 15, the central government announced that the second phase of lockdown would run until May 3 and again nationally banned alcohol and tobacco sales.
Several state governments unsuccessfully asked the government if they could resume alcohol sales, citing lost tax revenues and rising unrecorded-alcohol consumption. Trade associations then encouraged state governments to appeal the decision again, pointing out the states’ constitutional right to regulate alcohol sales.
At the start of May, the federal government announced that it would begin lifting the alcohol ban within days, as part of the latest phase of lockdown withdrawal. It permitted liquor stores in zones designated as low- or medium-risk for COVID-19 infection to reopen, although state governments had the power to decide whether to permit alcohol sales or not.
To date, the governments of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh have allowed liquor stores to reopen, but states with higher rates of COVID-19 have not.
Planned reversals as part of lockdown withdrawals
Some countries and regions have started to lift restrictions on alcohol sales. Austria recently announced that bars and restaurants could reopen on May 15, if COVID-19 cases do not surge before then.
Similarly, bars, restaurants, and clubs in Spain were closed in mid-March as part of a national lockdown, and the government recently announced that it will soon lift the restrictions in phases. In phase one, restaurants will be able to offer takeaway services and in phase two, bars and restaurants will be able to reopen their outdoor terrace areas at reduced capacity.
Several countries introduced bans and restrictions at the regional level rather than nationally, and states and provinces in Brazil, China, and Vietnam are already easing restrictions on the availability of alcohol, at varying speeds.
Panama’s government closed all the country’s bars, clubs, and restaurants on March 15. But, 10 days later, it totally banned alcohol for the duration of the national lockdown, A government source said it had tightened the restrictions because the public had not complied with lockdown conditions, with people breaking curfew and gathering to drink. Later, the media reported that the ban had stimulated unrecorded alcohol consumption.
The government recently announced that it will start lifting its ban in phases from May 8, and will set limits on how much alcohol people can buy at once. Public drinking will still be banned.
Reversals after public pressure
Some national and regional authorities have introduced new restrictions on alcohol since the beginning of the pandemic, only to ease or cancel them sooner than planned. In France, the regions of Aisne and Morbihan completely banned alcohol sales only to cancel the ban after criticism from the public and dependence experts. Aisne’s ban lasted less than a day.
The federal governments of Russia and Australia both ordered hospitality sector closures, with retail sales restrictions then introduced regionally. In March, the Government of Western Australia limited how much alcohol people could buy each day. Alcohol retailers across the rest of the country agreed a voluntary sales cap, following a spike in sales after bars closed. The WA government had planned to extend its limits into May but lifted them unexpectedly in late April; the retail sector removed its nationwide limit a week later, after sales levels returned to normal.
In Russia, some of the country’s regional governments banned or restricted alcohol sales after the hospitality sector closed. The government – which traditionally firmly restricts alcohol sales – urged regional administrators to lift these restrictions, saying that they would worsen public tension caused by the COVID-19 situation; several regions have since reversed or eased their bans and restrictions.
French Polynesia and Sint Maarten both banned alcohol sales briefly before cancelling the bans: the former after several weeks, and the latter after several days. Namibia also eased its alcohol ban after several weeks to allow the sale of drinks with an ABV below 3% but has since banned all alcohol sales again until June 2.
And in Zimbabwe, the police announced a national alcohol ban after the president declared a COVID-19 state of emergency, blaming poor compliance with social distancing regulations. However, leading producer Delta Breweries pointed out that it had been designated an “essential” business the previous week, and that the government had actually only banned alcohol in the hospitality sector. Within a day, the ban had been cancelled; Delta and the police had agreed that supermarkets and licensed liquor stores would be allowed to sell alcohol.
The tightest restrictions on alcohol sales globally
Thailand and India have recently reversed their bans on alcohol sales. However, other countries are still tightly restricting them as part of their responses to COVID-19.
In mid-March, South Africa’s government ordered the country’s taverns, restaurants, and clubs to close by 6:00 p.m. every day during its national state of disaster. The hospitality sector warned that it would be devastated by this decision.
But, a week later, President Cyril Ramaphosa tightened the restrictions and announced a three-week national lockdown, during which people would not be able to purchase or transport alcohol. The government made some concessions to allow the wine sector to continue to produce and transport wine for export.
In early April, a major hospitality association threatened to take legal action against the government unless it lifted the ban within a day. Ramaphosa’s office eventually announced that the ban would remain in force and told alcohol vendors to apply for financial relief instead.
On April 23, Ramaphosa announced that the lockdown would be withdrawn in phases from the start of May. However, tobacco sales would be permitted in the first phase but not alcohol sales. Officials suggested that the president would consider alternate proposals, and a producers’ association opened discussions about potentially allowing retail sales of alcohol for home consumption in the first phase. But, to date, the only change that has been confirmed is that tobacco sales will also not be allowed until the second phase. However, officials have reportedly said that the country could move to the second phase quickly if the first phase goes smoothly, meaning that alcohol sales with restricted hours could be permitted within weeks.
In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte declared a six-month national state of calamity in mid-March, with an Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) across the country’s central island Luzon. Although Duterte did not ban alcohol sales, Local Government Units (LGU) around the country then enacted local bans; the LGUs reportedly reasoned that alcohol was neither an essential good nor service, even though the government had told them not to excessively implement the ECQ.
In mid-April, producers asked the government to lift the ban, and impose sales restrictions instead. However, the Department of Trade and Industry confirmed that the national government was not responsible for the bans; they were under the control of the LGUs.
Reasons for restricting alcohol sales
The most common reason given for restricting alcohol sales has been to maintain social distancing. Authorities have also cited concerns over domestic violence and abuse when restricting retail alcohol sales during lockdowns.
Greenland’s alcohol ban was widely reported internationally, as it was the first time that a government banned alcohol during lockdown primarily to prevent domestic abuse. The ban was imposed in the capital city Nuuk and two other settlements. Prime Minister Kim Kielsen said that people were more likely to neglect social distancing after drinking, that the government had recorded a spike in domestic abuse since closing the country’s schools, and that protecting children was the most important part of his decision to ban alcohol.
In Argentina, the government announced a nationwide quarantine in late March, closing the country’s bars, restaurants, and other hospitality venues. Soon after, a municipality in Neuquén went further and banned all alcohol sales, citing concerns about domestic violence during the lockdown period. Within a week, another 42 municipalities across nine provinces had done the same, rising to 50 by the end of the month. Reasons given included domestic violence concerns and reducing alcohol-related hospital admissions.
And in France, the prefect of Réunion announced in early April that alcohol sales would be forbidden after 5:00 p.m., to fight “against the increase in domestic violence due to confinement.” The regional government’s COVID-19 restrictions had already limited alcohol sales from gas station stores and mobile bars, although not as strictly. The prefectures of Aisne and Morbihan both also banned alcohol sales because of domestic violence concerns, later reversing the bans, as did the Government of Sint Maarten.
Governments have also cited public safety concerns as a reason for alcohol restrictions, particularly in Estonia. In mid-March, there were reports that the Estonian government’s Crisis Committee had considered restricting alcohol sales in bars, clubs, and other venues as part of its national COVID-19 response. The committee discussed the suggestion “in terms of both internal security and public health.”
Within days, the government had approved emergency measures to ban alcohol service between 10:00 p.m. and 10:00 a.m. at hospitality venues. The nighttime ban did not apply at airports and ports. Minister of the Interior Marte Helme said that the restrictions would prevent additional alcohol harms that could burden the health system and police during the time of national emergency, such as social offenses, damage to people or property, drink driving, and damage to health.
And in mid-March, the Government of Andorra announced that only its own citizens and residents could buy alcohol and tobacco purchases, to prevent people from neighboring countries from crossing the border to bulk-buy these goods due to shortages in their own countries caused by COVID-19 stockpiling.
Tightening restrictions after poor compliance
Some governments restricted alcohol sales as part of their COVID-19 response and later tightened the measures.
In Costa Rica, the government ordered bars, restaurants, and other venues to halve their maximum capacities in mid-March, for social distancing. However, compliance was so poor that bars, clubs, and casinos were closed completely two days later, but other venues were allowed to stay open at half capacity.
Similarly, in Botswana, the government closed all bars and nightclubs in late-March, citing poor compliance with social distancing regulations. The government then announced a total ban on alcohol sales for 30 days, saying that the public were still not following guidelines. Soon after, President Mokgweetsi Masisi extended the country’s state of emergency and alcohol ban to six months.
And in Barbados, at the end of March, the government announced that a 24-hour curfew would run until mid-April because the public had not complied with social distancing instructions. Supermarkets, minimarts, and restaurants were closed, and small village stores were banned from selling alcohol. The government later extended the curfew to May 3 but allowed supermarkets to reopen. It has since lifted the ban on alcohol sales.
In Sri Lanka, the government closed all bars and liquor stores in late March, to minimize social gatherings and curb the spread of COVID-19. The restrictions were lifted in some districts a month later, on condition that social distancing guidelines were observed. However, large crowds immediately gathered at liquor stores and bars around the country, and the ban was reinstated the next day.
Bans on alcohol production
There have been many restrictions or bans on alcohol sales during the pandemic, but relatively few bans on production.
Mexico is one of the world’s largest producers of beer. However, when the federal government
published an emergency COVID-19 decree at the start of April, beer was not included in the list of essential business sectors that would be allowed to continue production. Major brewers started closing their production facilities.
However, the Secretariat of Agriculture and Rural Development (SADER) then wrote to the National Chamber of the Beer and Malt Industry (CANICERM), recognizing the economic importance of the barley-malt-beer supply chain, and inviting brewers to reopen under strict distancing and hygiene guidelines. But Undersecretary of Prevention and Health Promotion Hugo López-Gatell then announced that the sector was not authorized to resume production; he said that SADER’s letter was only intended to enable brewers’ prior commitments to purchase barley from the agricultural sector after the harvest.
The halt in production meant that, by the end of April, the retail sector experienced beer shortages. The media reported purchase limits and prices rising by up to 60%, followed by reports of unrecorded-alcohol deaths in early May.
However, during a television interview, Federal Consumer Attorney Ricardo Sheffield Padilla said that the ban on beer production was likely to be lifted in mid-May, to deal with the shortages. He pointed out that brewers had been able to purchase barley stocks after the harvest, meaning that they had plenty of raw materials to start production, and he predicted that beer prices would return to normal within a week.
The Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development Víctor Villalobos has recently said that he will mediate between brewers and the Ministry of Health to get the ban lifted.
Similar production bans were reported in Peru and Malaysia, where brewers were omitted from lists of essential businesses during COVID-19 lockdowns. Malaysia also authorized brewers to resume production before revoking permission again.
Easing restrictions to allow the sector to function
Many governments have introduced alcohol restrictions or bans during the pandemic, but some have eased existing market restrictions. This has been done to help the alcohol and hospitality sectors function, and to maintain consumers’ access to alcohol beverages and other consumer goods. And several countries have tightened some restrictions and loosened others, making different changes for the on- and off-trades.
In Canada, once social distancing guidelines had been introduced, most of the country’s regional authorities eased regulations on retailers, the hospitality sector, or both. Saskatchewan, Manitoba, and Ontario were among those to allow bars and restaurants to deliver drinks to their patrons with food orders. And in Japan, the National Tax Agency introduced a similar regulation early in April, with a new six-month alcohol-sales license for bars that allowed them to sell their stock by takeaway or delivery.
In the Czech Republic, lawmakers approved government excise law amendments at the end of April that allowed brewers to claim repayments for excise duty paid on beer that it had not been able to sell because of the pandemic. Similarly, Germany deferred an annual beer tax payment to support the brewing sector, and Hungary exempted wine and pálinka producers from paying certain taxes, to boost the agriculture sector.
In Kenya, the government published a list of essential business sectors in early April, which stated that alcohol producers and suppliers were “essential to the sustenance of lives and efforts must be taken to keep them operational throughout the crisis period.”
Similarly, Russia’s Ministry of Economic Development published a decree that allowed producers and licensed catering businesses to keep operating for up to a year if their license expired during the pandemic.
The Government of Latvia supported a proposal to allow online alcohol sales, overturning a longstanding ban on alcohol e-commerce. And in the United Arab Emirates, the Government of Dubai also lifted a ban on home deliveries of alcohol for the duration of the lockdown, after ordering the closure of bars and restaurants.
Meanwhile the Government of South Korea also lifted a ban on online sales for the duration of the crisis. However, these orders could not be delivered but only collected from a store.
Easing restrictions to enable sanitizer production
Sanitizer is important in fighting COVID-19 but, by mid-February, it was apparent that there would be a global shortage of it. Major alcohol producers had started mobilizing globally, switching production facilities from beverage alcohol to sanitizer, but the strict regulations that many countries have on disinfectant and sanitizer production impeded these efforts to help address the shortage.
The Government of India called on alcohol producers to assist with sanitizer production in March, by supplying ethyl alcohol, extra neutral alcohol (ENA), and ethanol to manufacturers for conversion into sanitizer. And in Indonesia, in April, the Minister of Home Affairs asked the alcohol sector to switch production from drinks to sanitizer to help meet demand.
In Australia, a federal government agency simplified regulations to allow producers to manufacture sanitizer, requiring that they follow one of two specific formulations. And similarly in Belgium, the federal government adopted new rules allowing producers to make sanitizer. Producers were required to comply with certain standards, and the government also lifted excise duties for this sanitizer, predicting that the shortfall would be filled within a week with producers’ assistance.
And, the Government of Japan allowed hospitals to use high-ABV beverages or ethanol as an alternative to sanitizer “when absolutely necessary.” This meant that producers did not need to repurpose their facilities to make sanitizer instead of drinks; many producers of lower-ABV beverages like sake immediately started producing high-ABV versions of their drinks to meet the demand for sanitizer.
Meanwhile, the Government of the United Kingdom allowed producers to make sanitizer to WHO's specifications. However, in the USA, producers made sanitizer using WHO’s specifications until the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that this formula was not approved. The FDA required denatured alcohol to be used rather than food-grade ethanol, but eventually withdrew this so that beverage alcohol producers could manufacture sanitizer easily, on the condition that denaturing chemicals would be added at the final step of production. However, the media reported later that the FDA may have reversed on this concession.
The federal government passed its third COVID-19 stimulus package at the end of March, including a federal excise tax waiver for distillers producing hand sanitizer. This let producers join in relief efforts without facing a substantial additional tax bill when many were already operating at a loss due to the pandemic.
Moldova also temporarily removed excise taxes for producers making sanitizer. The exception was introduced in March, and then withdrawn in early April when the government had enough sanitizer stocks. And the Government of Poland also temporarily suspended excise duties, but only for five days, attracting criticism. Uganda and the United Kingdom were also among the countries that suspended excise duties to encourage sanitizer production.
Appendix 1: Full timeline of relaxed restrictions
The federal government shut down all pubs, clubs, and licensed venues for an indefinite period on March 23, to curb the spread of COVID-19. Hospitality venues were restricted to providing takeaway services only. Although alcohol retailers were not affected, the Western Australia (WA) police commissioner warned that he would restrict sales in WA if people began to stockpile alcohol.
Within days, the WA Government announced maximum daily purchase limits for customers of liquor stores, hotels, bars, and alcohol producers, which would be in place for at least two weeks. The restriction was intended to prevent stockpiling and to reduce alcohol-related hospitalizations during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Meanwhile, retail chain Woolworths announced nationwide daily purchase limits at its BWS and Dan Murphy’s liquor store chains. In late March, Retail Drinks Australia warned that closing alcohol stores would devastate the entire supply chain, and cause thousands of job losses. Several days later, the association announced that it had partnered with major retail chains to agree a voluntary code to limit alcohol sales during the pandemic. The initiative did not apply to WA however, as the as the state government had already set daily purchase limits.
On April 9, the WA government announced that it would extend its sales limits for at least another month, declining to bring them in line with the less-strict voluntary restrictions that were now operating in the rest of the country. However, the state government unexpectedly ended the restriction early on April 20, praising the community for responsible behavior.
A week later, Retail Drinks Australia announced that alcohol retailers were lifting the national sales restrictions. CEO Julie Ryan said that the restrictions were intended to prevent panic-buying during the pandemic, and to “demonstrate co-ordinated industry leadership by liquor retailers.” She said that, although there had been an initial spike in retail sector alcohol sales when the federal government closed the hospitality sector, sales levels had been dropping since stores adopted the voluntary restrictions and were now lower than during the same period in 2019.
In South Australia, the state police told wineries and breweries to cease on-site trading in mid-April, after a cluster of COVID-19 cases were reported in the Barossa Valley area. One day after a local brewery threatened legal action, the police confirmed that takeaway sales would be permitted, although consumption of food and drinks on-premises would continue to be prohibited, as these businesses had now been aligned with hotels and restaurants.
And in New South Wales (NSW), the state government’s Liquor & Gaming NSW (L&GNSW) agency announced in early April that it would partially suspend restrictions on pubs, restaurants, and other hospitality venues on the religious holiday Good Friday (10 April) and the national remembrance day Anzac Day (25 April). These venues would be allowed to sell alcohol with takeaway meals between 12:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. on Good Friday and during their normal hours on Anzac Day. Liquor stores would also be permitted to open for the latter holiday, from 1:00 p.m. until their usual closing time.
And at the end of April, the Government of the Northern Territory (NT) announced that all of the states licensed venues will be permitted to open under strict time restrictions from May 15: the beginning of the second phase of the state’s economic recovery plan. Bars and restaurants will be permitted to open fully from the beginning of the third phase, scheduled for June 5.
The government announced a nationwide quarantine on March 16, and bars, restaurants, and other hospitality venues were ordered to close on March 17. Restaurants were still permitted to deliver food and drinks orders, and on April 4 the government announced that collections from restaurants would also be permitted, as long as distancing was observed.
On April 21, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced that the hospitality sector would be permitted to reopen on May 15, if the number of COVID-19 cases did not surge again. Venues would be required to close at 11:00 p.m.
On March 28, the government announced that a 24-hour curfew would be implemented until April 15, as large numbers of people were disregarding social distancing instructions.
Supermarkets and minimarts would close until further notice, and small village stores were instructed not to sell alcohol. Restaurants were also closed until April 14.
By April 11, the government had extended the curfew until May 3; it had been eased to allow limited access to supermarkets and other businesses, but restaurants were still closed, and alcohol sales were still prohibited. In early May, the government lifted its ban on alcohol sales in phase two of its quarantine withdrawal strategy.
The federal government has not introduced any restrictions on the alcohol, hospitality, or retail sectors, but different measures have been introduced at the state level. The Federal District and 21 of the country’s 26 states closed bars and restaurants in March as part of their COVID-19 responses, although some allowed businesses to offer food and drinks orders by collection or delivery.
However, by late April, the governments of Santa Catarina, Sergipe, and Tocantins had relaxed their lockdowns, allowing bars, restaurants and some other businesses to reopen with strict social distancing and hygiene requirements. Several other states and the Federal District have also started to loosen their restrictions, although bars and restaurants are not open yet.
The country’s bars and restaurants mostly closed after the Lunar New Year holiday in January, as national and government authorities imposed social distancing and various levels of lockdown regulations to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Venues in major cities continued to deliver drinks and food to their customers through February, and by late March, bars and clubs slowly began to reopen as the government lifted lockdown restrictions. Around 90% of restaurants in Beijing and Shanghai have reopened and are mostly operating to capacity at peak dining times. Regulations vary by region; bar patrons in Shanghai are required to show their “health code” status on entry, using a government smartphone app, and foreign patrons have to bring their passport to show where they have recently travelled.
The Government of France closed bars, cafés, restaurants, clubs, and other hospitality venues on March 13, to limit social interactions as part of its COVID-19 response. Supermarkets were allowed to stay open, along with certain other retail outlets.
On March 23, Prefect of Aisne Ziad Khoury announced that alcohol sales would be banned throughout the region from March 24, and that shops would be obliged to close early at 8:00 p.m. Khoury’s decree stated that the ban would help to reduce social gatherings, and was especially intended as a measure against domestic violence during the lockdown period.
However, the announcement was immediately criticized on social media, and the decree was withdrawn the same day. A statement said that “following discussions, in particular with addictologists, on certain possible negative consequences of a generalized measure, even a very temporary one, the prefect decided to revoke this provision pending a broader assessment of the possible measures in this area.”
On April 17, the department of Morbihan banned sales higher-ABV beverages, with beer, wine, and cider sales still permitted. Prefect of Morbihan Patrick Faure’s decree banned distilled spirits sales until May 11, which is when the government was expected to lift its coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown. Maure told the press that it was “clear that the duo of alcohol [and lockdown] are a bad mix” and that domestic violence had increased by over 30% in recent days. He also pointed out that the majority of violent incidents to which the police respond are alcohol-related, which was not “bearable” for the victims or wider society.
However, dependence specialists criticized the policy. National Association for the Prevention of Alcoholism and Addiction (ANPAA) Vice President Catherine Simon warned it would be ineffective in reducing domestic violence, as other types of alcohol were still available, also noting that the total ban imposed in Aisne would have presented the life-threatening risk of total withdrawal for alcohol-dependent people.
Alcohol producers also expressed similar concerns, and the French Federation of Spirits described the measure as “arbitrary, discriminatory and ineffective,” suggesting it would “simply lead to a shift to other alcohol beverages…we are all sensitive to the problems of domestic violence that this can cause, but prohibition is not a solution.”
At the end of April, the prefecture ended the ban early. Although originally intended to last until May 11, Faure told the press that “this decree was not intended to last… We are in a country of freedom, it was not a question of prohibition but of making an impression.” The prefect pointed out that domestic violence cases dropped sharply during the restriction period, and that sales of other alcohol beverages had also dropped - beer sales by 15%, and wine and cider by 30%.
The Government of French Polynesia banned retail alcohol sales on March 23, to help prevent mass gatherings and address concerns over domestic violence during a national COVID-19 lockdown. President Édouard Fritch said that the ban would last until April 5, although this was later extended. Hotels and restaurants were still permitted to serve alcohol with a meal and, from March 24, businesses were banned from advertising alcohol.
At the beginning of April, the government confirmed that it was considering whether to allow alcohol sales to resume with restrictions. But the ban was still in place in mid-April, and a domestic violence NGO had warned the government that the measure would be ineffective in reducing violence in the home, recommending restricted sales instead. There were also concerns that the ban was encouraging unrecorded alcohol production.
Shortly afterwards, the Council of Ministers issued a decree to end the sales ban, instead allowing stores to sell drinks with an ABV between 2% and 14%, with restricted opening hours and per-customer purchase limits.
The Government of Hong Kong ordered all bars and restaurants to close indefinitely on March 23, as part of measures intended to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Health officials had already criticized the public for not following social distancing guidelines, and Chief Executive Carrie Lam commented that people were taking off their face masks in bars and “even have intimate acts when they are tipsy.” Lam did not say exactly when the island’s 8,600 bars and restaurants would be required to close, but confirmed that emergency legislation to that effect was being prepared.
Hospitality associations immediately urged the government to subsidize rent and salaries to avoid mass permanent-closures, and to specify when the ban will be introduced. They also asked why only venues that served alcohol were being closed, as people would still be free to gather in unlicensed eateries.
On March 27, the government appeared to backtrack on the ban, with Lam telling the press that it “was just a suggestion” that was being withdrawn after consultation with the hospitality sector. Instead of closing, venues would reduce their maximum capacity by half, maintain 1.5 meters space between tables, and restrict tables to a maximum of four patrons. There was press speculation that the ban had merely been an elaborate bluff to ensure that the hospitality sector would agree to observe the new regulations.
However, on April 3, the government reversed position again, declaring that all bars and pubs would have to close for two weeks to curb the spread of COVID-19. Retailers were still allowed to sell alcohol.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi unexpectedly announced a total national lockdown on March 24, giving the entire population four hours’ notice that they would be under house arrest for the following three weeks. The National Restaurant Association of India (NRAI) had already advised its membership of more than 500,000 restaurants, pubs, bars, and cafes around the country to shut down voluntarily, less than a week before, to protect hospitality workers from COVID-19.
On April 7, the Confederation of Indian Alcoholic Beverage Companies (CIABC) wrote to 10 of the country’s state governments, urging them to reopen alcohol wholesalers and retailers to deter rising unrecorded alcohol consumption and preserve tax revenues. By April 14, some states were allowing liquor stores to open, with various distancing and opening hours restrictions. But these concessions were removed on April 15 when the central government announced the second phase of its nationwide COVID-19 lockdown, which would run until May 3 and included a total ban on alcohol and tobacco.
In the following weeks, state government ministers in Maharashtra and Punjab called for the alcohol ban to be partially lifted, but the central government dismissed the idea.
In late April, the CIABC wrote to all of the country’s state governments, urging them to appeal to the national government to allow alcohol sales in states with a low number of infections. The association pointed out that state authorities should regulate alcohol sales, under the constitution, and that Meghalaya and Assam had already started to allow liquor stores and alcohol wholesalers to open again for limited hours. Days later, the association contacted state governments again, urging them to permit regulated alcohol sales in their territories, outside COVID-19 containment zones.
Within a day, the press quoted an anonymous state government chief secretary as saying that “We have been given to believe that the central government could revisit the direction prohibiting the sale of alcohol.” State governments had reportedly pushed the central government over the alcohol ban and the loss of tax revenues, also complaining that it had led to a rise in illicit home distilleries and unrecorded-alcohol consumption. However, a senior government official commented that “No decision has been taken on lifting the ban on sale of alcohol.”
But on May 1, the federal government announced that alcohol and tobacco sales would be allowed again from May 3, with social distancing restrictions. The government has marked out green, orange, and red zones nationwide to indicate if neighborhoods were at low, medium, or high risk of COVID-19 infection, respectively. Liquor stores in green and orange zones would be permitted to reopen, as well as some in red zones. However, state governments have the power to decide on whether or not to reopen liquor stores.
The governments of Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Karnataka, and Madhya Pradesh immediately allowed liquor stores to reopen, while states with higher rates of COVID-19 did not.
There were reports of long queues at reopened stores, and the CIABC warned that alcohol stocks would not last long, because the country’s producers had been closed for a month under lockdown.
The Commandant of the Osh region issued a decree banning alcohol sales for two weeks on April 14, which covered Nookat district, Kara-Suu district, and the country’s second-largest city, Osh. The commandant’s office stated that the ban was intended to deter alcohol-related antisocial behavior, domestic violence, and drink driving during the national COVID-19 lockdown. But, by April 17 the ban had been lifted, reportedly because of complaints from businesses. However, the authority emphasized that the ban had been suspended rather than cancelled, stating that it could be enacted again if necessary.
The Government of Norway closed all the country’s bars indefinitely on March 12, except those that also served food, as part of a wider national COVID-19 lockdown. On March 21, Oslo Council closed all of the city’s bars and restaurants, after warning a week before that it would do so if venues did not immediately improve compliance with social distancing measures. Oslo was the only municipality in the country to do so, although Bergen was also reportedly considering similar restrictions.
The council later announced that the ban would be lifted on May 6, meaning that venues would be able to serve patrons on the Constitution Day public holiday on May 17. A council spokesperson said that the rate of infection was dropping and that the city should not intervene any more than necessary, but pointed out that venues would still be expected to follow social distancing regulations at all times to avoid any new closures.
The government closed the country’s bars, clubs, and restaurants on March 15 as part of COVID-19 national emergency measures. However, on March 25, the country became the first in the Americas to implement a total alcohol ban, when the government prohibited the distribution, sale and consumption for the duration of the national lockdown. A Ministry of Public Security source said that the public had not been following the new 9:00 p.m. curfew, and that people had been drinking alcohol in public and “generating problems for the relevant authorities.” The media later reported that the ban had stimulated unrecorded alcohol consumption.
Vice Minister of Health Luis Sucre recently announced that the government will start lifting its ban in phases from May 8, because the public have behaved responsibly. The government will set limits on how much alcohol people can buy at once. Consumption will be allowed at home but drinking in public will still be banned.
The Government of Russia closed all of the country’s bars, restaurants, and hospitality venues for one week on March 28, later extending the national closure to April 30. The retail sector reported a sharp increase in alcohol sales over the following weeks, followed by many regional authorities suspending or restricting alcohol sales.
On April 2, the Union of Russian Brewers (PSA) urged the government to introduce federal regulations for beer sales during the pandemic, to address the rising number of regional restrictions and bans. One day later, the Ministry of Industry and Trade issued a statement urging the country’s regions not to restrict or prohibit alcohol sales during the pandemic unless absolutely necessary. Minister of Industry and Trade Denis Manturov warned that additional alcohol controls during the pandemic could “provoke an increase in the share of illegal products and serious social tension.” And although regional authorities continued to impose new restrictions, the governments of Yakutia, Karelia, and Zabaykalsky Krai all announced that they would comply with the ministry’s directive and ease their restrictions, followed by Bashkortostan a week later.
On April 6, Prime Minister Mishustin instructed the ministries of health and finance to investigate the regional restrictions, along with federal beverage alcohol regulator Rosalkogolregulirovanie (PAP), reportedly with the intention of having the restrictions lifted.
The Federal Antimonopoly Service (FAS) also issued a warning on sales restrictions after some regions banned or limited the retail sale of draught beer. The FAS declared that this breached competition laws and clashed with the government’s wider policy of discouraging consumption, by pushing beer drinkers towards distilled spirits and potentially encouraging the unrecorded alcohol market. However, regions continued to ban alcohol sales; the ministry reiterated its statement later in April.
The Government of Spain implemented a national COVID-19 lockdown on March 14, under which the country’s bars, restaurants and clubs were all closed.
At the end of April, Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez announced a phased withdrawal from the lockdown, beginning on May 4. The pace of withdrawal will vary by province. Restaurants will be allowed to offer takeaway services during the first phase, and bars and restaurants will be permitted to reopen their outdoor terrace areas in the second phase, but only at 30% of regular capacity. The second phase is likely to begin on May 11 in most regions, but the national government will decide when each province switches to the next phase. Sanchez said that the government has decided against setting firm deadlines to ease the lockdown, as the situation may change.
The Government of Sint Maarten announced a national COVID-19 lockdown in late March, closing all non-essential businesses. Bars were closed, and restaurants were only permitted to offer takeaway and delivery services.
On April 12, Prime Minister Silveria Jacobs announced that she would suspend alcohol sales during the lockdown period, saying that there had been an increase in domestic abuse cases since the lockdown started, and that she had been advised that alcohol exacerbates violence in the home. Three days later, Jacobs informed lawmakers that the alcohol sales ban would be lifted as the lockdown ended and stores reopened. She said that, in addition to the government’s domestic abuse concerns, supermarkets had reported that a special delivery system set up to distribute essential goods during the lockdown period had been overwhelmed by alcohol orders.
Some Thai provinces announced alcohol bans or restrictions at the end of March, as part of regional efforts against the spread of COVID-19.
At the beginning of April, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha informed the Ministry of the Interior and other ministries that the government should consider banning alcohol sales, under a recently-introduced national state of emergency for the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that would be evaluated at the end of April and extended as necessary.
Regional authorities separately introduced bans and restrictions in the following weeks, and by April 12, all 77 of the country’s provinces had banned alcohol sales. The length of the bans varied; most would end between April 20 and 30, but Phitsanulok and Phuket banned alcohol sales indefinitely.
Meanwhile, the Centre for Alcohol Studies (CAS) at Prince of Songkla University warned that up to one million people nationwide were alcohol-dependent, of which 10% were severely dependent and at risk of serious withdrawals. A government health spokesperson also warned that people experiencing alcohol withdrawal should seek medical treatment immediately.
On April 18, the Ministry of Interior confirmed that all the country’s provinces had now extended their bans until April 30. The Ministry of Public Health also announced said that it would ask the government’s Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) to ease lockdown measures across the 32 provinces where no new infections had been reported for two weeks. The ministry advised reopening markets and malls but keeping entertainment and hospitality venues closed.
In late April, seven alcohol trade associations urged the government not to extend the sales ban beyond April 30, and to allow take-away and delivery services, along with other concessions such as lifting a ban on wholesale alcohol sales.
However, within days, the CCSA recommended that the sales bans should be renewed on May 3, at the discretion of provincial authorities, as the government had extended the state of emergency by another month. This would effectively mean that no bans would be in place on May 1 and 2 and that alcohol could be purchased. This was later addressed when the prime minister signed an executive order extending “prohibitive measures, relief measures, or actions” until the end of May. The order took effect from May 1, removing the possibility of two days of alcohol sales.
But, the government then unexpectedly lifted the ban, allowing alcohol sales from May 3.
The federal government recommended on March 16 that people should “avoid gathering in groups of more than 10 people” and “avoid eating and drinking in bars and restaurants and public food courts,” but by this point many state governments had already closed their hospitality sector temporarily. By March 17, 21 state governments had either ordered temporary closures or limited venues to selling drinks through takeaway or delivery orders.
However, the only state to restrict retail sales was Pennsylvania. On March 17, the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB) announced that its state-run liquor store monopoly Fine Wine & Good Spirits would close until further notice, because public health concerns had to take precedence over wine and spirits sales. This meant that spirits and most wines were no longer available from stores in the state. Supermarkets and convenience stores continued to sell beer and wine, and the state’s distilleries reported a boom in direct sales.
The Distilled Spirits Council of the United States (DISCUS) and the American Distilled Spirits Association (ADSA) urged Governor Tom Wolf to reconsider the decision. They suggested that PLCB could instead reduce the number of stores that were open, limit opening hours, or even issue temporary licenses to independent stores that already sold beer and wine, so that they could also sell spirits.
At the beginning of April, the PLCB announced that it would resume “limited” online orders on its website, amid reports that consumers were simply travelling to neighboring states to bulk-buy alcohol. However, the PLCB’s website was reportedly unable to meet demand, with many customers unable to order. Only an estimated one in 330 customers could complete an order during the first week, and five days’ sales for the entire network were roughly equal to one week’s average sales from a single store.
Two wine dealers sued the PLCB over the closures, as it meant that the state’s wine dealers and restaurants were unable to purchase wine because Fine Wine & Good Spirits stores hold ordered stock for collection. In mid-April, PLCB announced that 175 of its 600 liquor stores would be reopening, for collection orders only, and these stores fulfilled around $2.3 million in orders during the first three days of opening. By the final week of April, another 389 were reopened for collections, meaning that most of the retail chain was open again.
Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc declared a 15-day period of isolation on April 1, following various local restrictions in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and elsewhere in March that saw most of the country’s hospitality sector already closed by this point. The national lockdown reinforced these bans by limiting the activity of people to “essential needs” and strictly limiting the number of businesses and services that remained open.
The government started to ease the national lockdown on April 23, reporting that no COVID-19 deaths had been recorded to date. Local and regional authorities will decide on when bars, restaurants, and other venues can reopen. Many local authorities have not announced when they will permit hospitality venues to reopen, but Vinh Phuc province has permitted restaurants and bars to make home deliveries since April 24, declaring that its hospitality sector could reopen at the beginning of May. In Kien Gang, bars will also reopen at the beginning of May, and Quang Nam is allowing bars and restaurants to open but not serve alcohol. Thua Thien Hue’s council has also permitted the hospitality sector to reopen, observing strict social distancing and limiting patrons to 20 per room or venue.
President Emmerson Mnangagwa announced a national 21-day coronavirus (COVID-19) lockdown at the end of March, during which citizens were expected to stay home unless obtaining food, medical supplies, or other essentials. A week later the Zimbabwe Republic Police announced a ban on all alcohol sales, stating that it was necessary to prevent antisocial behavior as groups of people were buying alcohol at supermarkets and then drinking in groups nearby, “defying social distancing.”
However, Delta Breweries said that there was no ban on retail sales, pointing out that it had recently been designated as an essential service provider. A spokesperson clarified that the lockdown alcohol ban only applied to the hospitality sector, not alcohol sold through retail. The public had also reportedly questioned the legality of the ban, and within a day it was withdrawn. Delta and the police had agreed that sales would be permitted through supermarkets and registered bottle stores, and the police issued a warning to customers not to congregate after buying alcohol.
Appendix 2: Full timeline of continuing restrictions
The Government of Andorra approved a decree in mid-March that restricted alcohol and tobacco purchases to citizens and residents. The decree was intended to prevent people from neighboring countries from crossing the border to bulk-buy these goods due to shortages in their own countries caused by COVID-19 stockpiling. Consumers were also limited to buying one liter of beverages with an ABV higher than 22% per day, or one liter of a lower-ABV drink plus two bottles of still or sparkling wine.
In Argentina, the government announced a nationwide quarantine between March 20 and 31, which was later extended. The country’s bars, restaurants, and other hospitality venues were closed under the lockdown.
However, at the beginning of April, Rincón de los Sauces in Neuquén Province banned all alcohol sales with the intention of reducing domestic violence during the lockdown period. One week later, another 42 municipalities across nine provinces banned alcohol sales, rising to 50 by the end of the month, for reasons including domestic violence concerns and reducing alcohol-related hospital admissions.
The government closed all the country’s bars and nightclubs on March 21, after members of the public did not comply with social distancing guidelines. The government then announced a 30-day ban on alcohol sales from March 28, to be reviewed at the end of the 30-day period, saying that the public were still not complying with COVID-19 restrictions.
However, in early April President Mokgweetsi Masisi proposed to extend the country’s state of emergency for an additional six months from April 30, including a six-month ban on alcohol and tobacco sales. Parliament voted to approve the extended lockdown on April 9.
The government announced on March 13 that bars, clubs, restaurants, and other hospitality venues must reduce their capacities by 50%. However, two days later, the government said that compliance had been so poor that bars, clubs, and casinos would be closed entirely. Other hospitality venues were allowed to stay open, with the 50% capacity requirement.
In mid-March, the media reported that the Government of Estonia’s Crisis Committee was considering restricting alcohol sales in bars, clubs, and other hospitality venues as part of the national COVID-19 response. Minister of Social Affairs Tanel Kiik said that the idea was being considered “in terms of both internal security and public health.”
But two days later, the media reported that the government had approved emergency measures to prohibit alcohol service in all hospitality venues between 10:00 p.m. and 10:00 a.m. The nighttime service ban did not apply at airports and ports. Minister of the Interior Marte Helme said that the restrictions would prevent additional alcohol harms, including drink driving; damage to health, people, and property; and other offenses that could burden the health system and police during the time of national emergency.
The Government of France closed bars, cafés, restaurants, clubs, and other hospitality venues on March 13 to limit social interactions as part of its COVID-19 response. Supermarkets were allowed to stay open, along with certain other retail outlets.
In Réunion, Prefect Jacques Billant announced in early April that alcohol sales would not be permitted after 5:00 p.m., to fight “against the increase in domestic violence due to confinement.” Under the regional government’s COVID-19 restrictions, alcohol sales from gas station stores were not allowed after 6.00 p.m., or from mobile bars after 9:00 p.m. Similar restrictions were also introduced in the prefectures of Aisne and Morbihan, but later reversed.
Greenland’s alcohol ban was widely reported internationally; the government announced that it was primarily intended to prevent domestic abuse. The ban was imposed in the capital city Nuuk, as well as in the nearby Kapisillit and Qeqertarsuatsiaat settlements, between March 28 and April 5. Prime Minister Kim Kielsen said that people were “less aware of the dangers of contamination” after drinking, that the government had recorded a spike in domestic abuse since the country’s schools had closed on March 23, and that protecting children was “the crux” of the decision to ban alcohol.
The government implemented a nationwide Movement Control Order (MCO) on March 18 to curb the spread of COVID-19; only essential businesses were allowed to operate. A week later, Heineken and Carlsberg suspended production for the duration of the lockdown.
However, on April 4, the Ministry of Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs (KPDNHEP) said that the producer qualified as a “food supplier” and could resume limited operations with a minimum of essential workers. The Malaysian Islamist Party (PAS) and other religious groups criticized this decision, arguing that alcohol was not essential during the pandemic, leading to a social media backlash against the breweries reopening.
Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob mentioned the swell of public opinion at a press conference the following day, where he announced that “after a special Cabinet meeting headed by the prime minister, we decided to revoke their permits.”
In Mexico, the federal government published an emergency decree at the beginning of April, containing a list of essential business sectors allowed to continue production during the COVID-19 pandemic. Breweries were omitted from the list, and major brewers announced that they would begin shutting down their production facilities. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador also gave regional authorities the power to prohibit alcohol sales if deemed necessary to curb the spread of the virus, and several states immediately did so.
However, on April 6, the Secretariat of Agriculture and Rural Development (SADER) wrote to the National Chamber of Beer and Malt Industry (CANICERM), recognizing the economic importance of the barley-malt-beer supply chain, and inviting breweries to reopen under strict observance of the health authorities’ distancing and hygiene guidelines. Grupo Modelo resumed production on April 9, with only 25% of its workforce present at its 11 plants, in line with sanitary regulations.
However on April 10, Undersecretary of Prevention and Health Promotion Hugo López-Gatell declared that the instruction to brewers was “a mistake and it is going to be amended,” and that brewers were not authorized to resume production. He said that the letter had referred only “to facilitating the relationship between producers of barley and industry representatives”, which would allow the latter to resume prior purchasing commitments.
By late April, some states had introduced alcohol bans as well as other lockdown measures. Secretary of the Interior Olga Sánchez Cordero held a virtual conference with municipal leaders to urge them not to restrict the public’s free movement, nor to ban alcohol sales in their jurisdictions. She said the situation was a public health emergency rather than a state of exception, and that some of the measures implemented at a state level around the country were far stricter than recommended by the government.
By the end of April, the retail sector started to report widespread beer shortages, as the halt in production caught up with the market, and there were reports of purchase limits and prices rising by up to 60%. The National Chamber of Small Commerce (CANACOPE) said that beer was selling through the supply chain without being replenished, and that stores and warehouses are already empty. “There is no date or even likelihood that things will return to normal in terms of supply.”
At the beginning of May, there were reports of unrecorded alcohol deaths, as it became clear that the supply chain was now almost completely empty of beer. However, during a television interview, Federal Consumer Attorney Ricardo Sheffield Padilla said that the ban on beer production was likely to be lifted in mid-May, to deal with the shortages. He pointed out that the national barley harvest was already underway when the state of emergency began, meaning the brewers had plenty of raw materials to start producing; he predicted that beer prices would return to normal within a week.
The Secretary of Agriculture and Rural Development Víctor Villalobos has recently said that he will act as an intermediary between brewers and the Ministry of Health to get the ban lifted.
The Government of Namibia announced a 21-day national state of emergency on 27 March, to protect the population against the further spread of COVID-19. Alcohol sales were banned under the lockdown and all bars, taverns, and clubs were closed; cafes and restaurants were only permitted to offer takeaway sales. President Hage Geingob later extended the lockdown from April 17 to May 4.
However, the government’s updated “State of Emergency Proclamation” stated that “liquor” sales were banned during lockdown, rather than “alcohol” as previously. The proclamation defined “liquor” as a beverage with an ABV higher than 3%, meaning that low-ABV drinks were allowed again. Brewers resumed marketing activities for their low- and non-alcohol beers.
However, the government issued new lockdown regulations on May 5, banning all alcohol sales again on June 2.
In Peru, the government enacted a national state of emergency on March 15, which it later extended into April. The country’s brewers suspended operations in late March, to comply with the lockdown, and in late April wrote a joint statement to the government, to emphasize how essential the brewing sector is to the economy and express their need to resume production as soon as possible.
Minister of Production Rocío Barrios later confirmed that the government was evaluating the possibility of allowing the sector to resume production in early May, when the gradual resumption of economic activity was scheduled to begin. Barrios also noted that some municipal authorities had misinterpreted the production suspension as a prohibition law and clarified that this was not the case.
President Rodrigo Duterte declared a six-month national state of calamity on March 16, also announcing an Enhanced Community Quarantine (ECQ) across Luzon, the country’s central island. Although Duterte did not ban alcohol sales, the ECQ did regulate essential food and goods. The announcement prompted Local Government Units (LGU) in Luzon and around the country to enact local bans, reasoning that alcohol was not an essential good or service, even though the Department of Interior and Local Government had “strictly enjoined” the country’s LGUs not to excessively implement the ECQ.
The Center for Alcohol Research and Development Foundation Inc. (CARD) trade association contacted the government in mid-April asking for the ban to be lifted, suggesting that the government could impose sales restrictions instead, saving the sector and its employees from ruin. But Secretary of Finance Carlos G. Dominguez III told the press that he did not support the suggestion, saying that ending the Luzon ban would need to be part of a larger conversation about “maintaining the current partial lockdown or tightening it or loosening it further.”
Later, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) clarified that the alcohol bans were not the national government’s responsibility anyway, and told stakeholders that LGUs had responsibility for the various local bans. However, the DTI also pointed out that alcohol was not designated as an “essential” product during the crisis. Despite the fact that the president had not banned alcohol, alcohol would continue to be banned across much of the country.
The government introduced new regulations on March 18 that required taverns, restaurants, and clubs to close by 6:00 p.m. every day during the national state of disaster that had been declared for the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the hospitality sector warned that it would be “completely devastated” by the measure, which had been announced without any mention of economic relief for business, Police Minister Bheki Cele declared that there would be no negotiations over implementation: “The laws will not be diluted. It is not negotiable, it is the law.”
One week later, the alcohol restrictions were tightened further when President Cyril Ramaphosa announced a three-week national lockdown, beginning March 26, during which people would not be able to purchase or transport alcohol. Cele urged the public to “please remain sober” during the lockdown, to reduce alcohol-related hospital admissions and leave beds free for COVID-19 patients.
The following day, the agriculture ministry announced that wine sector workers would be exempt from the lockdown, as the agricultural sector had been classified as essential; on April 7, the government announced further concessions, issuing new regulations that would allow wine exports to continue during the lockdown
At the same time, Police Minister Cele reported a sharp drop in serious and violent crime rates in the short period since the lockdown had taken effect, which he partly attributed to the alcohol ban and suggested that the alcohol ban should continue past the end of the lockdown.
The Gauteng Liquor Forum wrote to President Ramaphosa on April 11, threatening the government with legal action if it did not lift the ban by April 14. The association represents around 20,000 taverns and shebeens nationwide, and warned that the lockdown was unconstitutional and would devastate the hospitality sector. Instead of lifting the ban, Ramaphosa’s office wrote to the trade association asking them to hold their legal action until the president had consulted with his COVID-19 taskforce later in the week. One of the topics on the agenda was financial support for businesses affected by the lockdown.
However, Ramaphosa decided against withdrawing the sales ban, suggesting that taverns and shebeens should apply for the government’s financial relief packages. One day previously, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma had announced that wine exports were also now banned, after the earlier exemption.
Later in April, the press reported that the government was expected to relax the alcohol restrictions at the end of the month, when the lockdown ended; Ramaphosa was expected to announce on April 23 if it would be extended into May. However, Police Minister Cele continued to brief that the alcohol ban had reduced crime levels, despite critics pointing out that the national lockdown was a likelier cause.
As expected, Ramaphosa declared on April 23 that the country would shortly move into a risk-adjusted strategy to reopen the economy after the lockdown. This would begin with the current state of lockdown, which was described as alert Level 5. But although tobacco sales would be permitted during the first phase of recovery on May 1, when the alert dropped to Level 4, alcohol sales would remain banned until the second phase, Level 3.
However, the president was reportedly willing to consider proposals by stakeholders before the regulations took effect, and the SA Liquor Brand Owners Association (SALBA) later announced that it was in talks with the government to selectively lift the alcohol restrictions. SALBA proposed to allow alcohol sales for home consumption as part of the Level 4 restrictions, and for alcohol exports to resume.
The National Treasury also announced that it would defer payment of alcohol excise and tobacco taxes for May and June, for 90 days, as part of its COVID-19 relief measures. And at the end of the month, Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma announced that the ban on the tobacco sales would also remain in place at Level 4. The government had received over 2,000 complaints from stakeholders and the public, warning that smoking could increase the symptoms of the virus.
However, officials have since been quoted saying that the country could move to the second phase rapidly if the first phase goes smoothly, meaning that alcohol sales with restricted hours could be permitted within weeks.
The government closed all bars and liquor stores on March 21 to try and minimize large gatherings and curb the spread of COVID-19. Following a rise in unrecorded alcohol consumption, the Excise Department announced on April 20 that they could reopen in some districts as part of a relaxation of the COVID-19 curfew, with social distancing measures.
However, the government reversed this decision on April 21, after large crowds congregated at liquor stores and bars around the country. The National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol (NATA) had also urged the president to drop the plan until the pandemic was over.