No drinking
  • South Africa gets an extra holiday for the local government elections on 1 November.
  • That may mean a holiday from curfew too, if the government follows advice, and polling hours are stretched to avoid crowding.
  • But alcohol sales restrictions may also make a comeback, at least for the day.
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Election Day on 1 November will be a holiday, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Monday, settling one important question about the logistics of rushed and at times chaotic preparations for the polling day.

But to what extent South Africans will be able to party on the day has not yet been settled.

Also on Monday, the health department released an elections-specific memo from its ministerial advisory committee (MAC) on Covid-19, which is intended to help the government formulate policy – though its advice is not always followed.

See also | Scientists didn’t sign off on shorter curfew, crowd counts, newly released memo shows

The memo shows that, in the last week of September (when curfew stills started 23:00, and not midnight as is the case now), the MAC recommended that South Africans be given a break from curfew on the day of the elections.

"Extended voting hours have been recommended to spread out the number of voters at any one time," the MAC told the department of health. "In the event that the regulations in force on the day of the election voting include a curfew period, consideration needs to be given to relaxing the curfew to allow all voters to complete their voting."

Voting could be allowed up to the stroke of midnight, and election and party officials would still need to move around well after that time. The MAC also recommended that voters be encouraged to avoid the usual peak times at polling stations, usually between 07:00 and 11:00, which could see a far higher than usual number of late-night voters.

But the implications of such a once-off curfew relaxation, on a holiday, not long after payday, was not lost on the department of health's incident management team (IMT), which includes both health officials and epidemiologists.

"Consideration should be given to the limitation of alcohol sales on the Election Day," the IMT said in an additional recommendation attached to the curfew comment of the MAC.

The ban on booze sales during weekends and public holidays ended at the beginning of the month, with a switch to regular licensed hours, but no sales after 23:00.

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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