Alcohol smuggling jumps in Namibia amid coronavirus crackdown

WINDHOEK (Reuters) - Namibian police reported on Tuesday a jump in people smuggling beers and whisky from neighbouring Angola and Zambia, using illegal border crossings to beat a ban on alcohol sales that is part of the country’s plan to slow the spread of coronavirus.

The south western African nation has, like a number of other countries, matched restrictions on movement with curbs on booze as a means of enforcing social distancing - a strategy challenged by some experts and unpopular with many citizens.

Namibia has so far seen 16 confirmed cases of coronavirus, with no deaths. Under lockdown laws, only the sale of liquor with an alcohol content of 3% or less is permitted.

Police spokesman Linekeela Shikongo told local media there had been an “overwhelming increase” in the sale of Angolan beer in northern Namibia, while the Zambezi region in the north east had seen a steep rise in spirits smuggled from Zambia.

Sparsely populated Namibia is one of Africa’s biggest countries by land mass, sharing its largely porous borders with South Africa, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia and Angola.

Namibia is also one of the top-ten beer consumers globally per capita.

“So far we have arrested a number of them, and a number of bottles were confiscated,” said Zambezi police commander Karel Theron of the smugglers.

He added “a number of illegal immigrants” were arrested, but later released, due to the lack of space in police cells.

“We’re having accommodation problems for the inmates. We cannot accommodate all of them,” the police commander said.

Namibia, like South Africa, has been under lockdown since March 27, with only workers in essential services allowed to travel. But in Zambia, only Kafue, a town in south-central Zambia and its surrounds, is in a total lockdown.

Reporting by Nyasha Nyaungwa; Editing by Mark Potter