New research highlights major flaws in South Africa’s lockdown alcohol bans

 ·8 Apr 2021

The liquor industry says that the South African government will have to change its approach and consider new data before choosing to implement future alcohol bans.

In a statement on Thursday (8 April) the South African Liquor Brand owners Association (Salba) cited a new report which showed that, while trauma cases in South Africa declined during lockdown, the difference was minimal compared to countries that did not introduce a ban on alcohol.

The report was led by independent data expert Ian McGorian of Silver Fox Consulting, in collaboration with professor Mike Murray from the University of KwaZulu-Natal, and financial support from Distell.

The analysis showed that trauma cases in South Africa under lockdown dropped 60%.

However, other countries without an alcohol ban also experienced a similar phenomenon, including the UK (-57%), Ireland (-62%), Italy (-56.6%) and USA (-54%), raising questions about the efficacy of bans on alcohol.

The researchers noted further that the data shows that curfew could have played an even greater role in decreasing trauma cases over the period than the alcohol bans – again bringing into question what metrics and research government was conducting or using to justify the bans.

While members of the liquor industry recognised the impact of alcohol on South African society, they said that government needs to take a more objective stance on its lockdown regulations.

Salba chairperson Sibani Mngadi said the latest banning of alcohol sales for home consumption over the Easter Weekend, while at the same time increasing the size of permitted gatherings, made even less sense as a means of reducing the risk of new Covid-19 infections.

He said it suggested the government was not taking a scientific approach in its decision making.

This was echoed by National Liquor Traders Council (NLTC) convener Lucky Ntimane who said the analysis showed that the conventional wisdom on which the government was making decisions on alcohol bans and proposed tighter liquor regulations was flawed.

“The Covid-19 pandemic is shattering our country, its people and the economy, and we are dismayed by the loss of lives.

“But we do not believe that implementing continuous bans on alcohol is the answer, and this analysis clearly shows the need for a more balanced approach.

“We have worked with the liquor industry to put in place a number of initiatives to reduce the harm caused by alcohol abuse, ensure compliance with Covid-19 protocols and liquor licence conditions amongst traders.”

More objective approach needed 

Distell chief executive Richard Rushton said the industry was simply asking that an objective view be taken of the data in order to facilitate more meaningful dialogue with decision-makers.

“We are all on the same side, and we want to help find solutions. We are very clear that alcohol abuse is unacceptable and causes harm. Our view is that the focus must be on finding ways to deal with high-risk drinkers, rather than using blunt instruments that penalise all South Africans.

“Any proposed new regulations need to be evidence-based, rational and target problem areas,” he said.

Business Leadership SA chief executive Busisiwe Mavuso said the bans on the alcohol industry could have been better managed, having resulted in more than 220,000 job losses with billions of rands in tax lost to the fiscus while the uncertainty for alcohol producers as a result of the bans was a real problem.

“The decisions made to confront the health crisis should not have unintended consequences for the economy, and that is exactly what has happened with the bans on alcohol,” she said.

Mavuso added that business has, since the start of the pandemic, been a willing partner to government and “needs to be part of the solution to ensure we fight this pandemic with the least possible damage to the economy”.

“The data analysis by the alcohol industry is an important intervention and must be taken seriously as we move forward.”

Read: Over 400,000 people have been arrested for breaking South Africa’s Covid-19 rules

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