The ban on the sale, distribution and transportation of alcohol has been reinstated, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Monday night as South Africa moved to Level 3 of the Covid-19 lockdown.
The move was necessitated by the second wave of Covid-19 infections, with the country passing more than a million cases and 27 000 known deaths. There have been 50 000 new cases since Christmas Eve.
Ramaphosa said in his address to the nation that the consumption of alcohol in restaurants, nightclubs and taverns contributed to risky behaviour, like not wearing masks and not observing social distancing. Excessive alcohol consumption was also driving the increased number of trauma cases in hospitals.
"One of the more difficult areas of regulation relates to the sale of alcohol. The liquor industry is a major employer and an important contributor to our economy," the president said.
"Our priority at this time, however, must be to save lives."
Ramaphosa said the sale of alcohol from retail outlets and on-site consumption would not be permitted. The prohibition on consuming alcohol in public spaces like parks and beaches would also remain.
Distribution and transportation of alcohol will be prohibited, with exceptions that will be explained later.
Under South Africa's initial strict lockdown earlier in the year, the trade of alcohol and tobacco were banned. The ban on the latter was successfully challenged at the Western Cape High Court, with the court ruling that the ban was unconstitutional and unnecessary.
Ramaphosa said on Monday that "according to the data we have, with every relaxation of the restrictions on the sale of alcohol, the number of trauma cases reporting at our hospitals has increased".
"As we had to in the early days of the lockdown, we now have to flatten the curve to protect the capacity of our healthcare system to enable it to respond effectively to this new wave of infections," the president said.
"In such a scenario, every piece of medical equipment, every hospital bed, every healthcare worker, and every oxygen tank is needed to save lives."
The Liquor Traders Formation - a group representing the interests of retailers and producers in the sector - had called on the government earlier on Monday to consider off-premises sale of alcohol, warning that a total shutdown of liquor sales would end the tavern market and the 250 000 direct jobs in the sector.