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Botswana Eases COVID Restrictions Despite Spike in Deaths

FILE - A man walks past a closed down butcher shop and liquor store amid the coronavirus pandemic, in Gaborone, Botswana, April 5, 2020.
FILE - A man walks past a closed down butcher shop and liquor store amid the coronavirus pandemic, in Gaborone, Botswana, April 5, 2020.

Botswana, which saw COVID-19 deaths surpass 300 this week, has lifted a ban on alcohol sales and eased curfew restrictions. But President Mokgweetsi Masisi extended an existing curfew.

In a televised address, Masisi said rising COVID-19 cases mean the curfew will continue until the end of March. Botswana introduced a nine-hour curfew in December, but Masisi announced Friday the hours have been reduced to six.

"The curfew period restricting the movement of people will be extended from the 1st to the 31st of March 2021 and will begin at 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. daily. The government has decided to lift the suspension of the sale of alcohol with effect from 1st March, 2021. Alcohol will be sold to consumers on weekdays only," he said.

Masisi said in lifting the alcohol ban, the government took into consideration the impact on the economy.

"Studies both scientific and anecdotal, have shown that alcohol consumption impairs judgment making it difficult in some cases to adhere to set health protocols. Although necessary at the time, the government has nonetheless been worried by the effect of the temporary ban on the sale of alcohol on the industry, and by extension, the country’s economy," Masisi said.

The country’s alcohol industry employs more than 50,000 people.

Botswana Alcohol Industry Association president Masegonyana Madisa welcomed the decision to lift the ban.

"As the alcohol industry, we have always maintained a certain position, that is government should find a more sustainable approach to this problem that we have, which involves curbing the spread of the virus, which we have in Botswana, and at the same time balancing it with protecting the lives and livelihoods of those in the alcohol industry, including its extensive value chain."

Meanwhile, the country’s COVID-19 Task Force team vice chairperson, Mosepele Mosepele, expressed concern over the rising death toll.

“The unfortunate report that we would like to share is the sharp increase in the number of COVID-19 fatalities. The last time we reported we stood at 254, and unfortunately today we report cumulative 300 total number of COVID-19-associated fatalities, Mosepele said.

The southern African country has recorded 28,371 COVID-19 cases and 310 deaths.

President Masisi has urged the nation to adhere to COVID-19 protocols as the country awaits the arrival of the first batch of vaccine doses in March.