The South African Alcohol Policy Alliance (Saapa) has called on the government to restrict alcohol sales and advertising in South Africa as part of the fight against the third wave of Covid-19 in the country.
The group is calling for a host of restrictions to be placed on alcohol trade, including events and gatherings which could promote drinking. It is also taking aim at other laws and alcohol advertising, insisting that government:
- Prohibit major alcohol-fuelled party events, including street parties;
- Reduce the gathering numbers to 50 indoors and 100 outdoors;
- Extend the curfew from midnight to 22h00, seven days a week;
- Announce that all on-consumption liquor outlets should be closed from 18h00 on public holidays and one day prior to public holidays to discourage the excessive use of alcohol in overcrowded venues and to limit the potential for ‘super-spreader’ events;
- Disallow alcohol consumption in public places, particularly in parks, on beaches, at swimming pools etc;
- Suspend for a minimum three months, or revoking, the licences of outlets that break alcohol and/or Covid-19 regulations;
- Reduce off-consumption operating hours.
- Temporarily impose zero breath and blood concentration levels for drivers during the State of Disaster – such a measure is already contained in the Road Traffic Amendment Bill which is currently before Parliament and has wide-spread support, but won’t be enacted before the end of 2021;
- Ban all special offers for reduced price alcoholic beverages at least until the end of the State of Disaster;
- Ban all alcohol advertising except at point of sale to reduce the pressure on people to drink.
While government has so far maintained that the country does not meet the technical definition of being in a third Covid wave nationally, it has acknowledged that certain regions have already hit the threshold.
This includes Gauteng, where premier David Makhura confirmed last week that the province is in a third wave.
Saapa said that with more infections expected in the coming weeks and months, government should not wait until hospitals and healthcare facilities are overburdened to act on social activities that exacerbate the situation – such as drinking.
“Saapa believes it is best to act sooner rather than later and that government should not wait until the health system becomes overburdened before restrictions are introduced. Alcohol consumption should not aggravate the predicted impact of the third wave,” it said.
The lobby group’s position on alcohol trade is in direct opposition to the alcohol industry and other business groups, which have told government in no uncertain terms that further restrictions on trade will decimate small businesses, and jobs.
Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) chief executive, Busi Mavuso, said that sense needs to prevail when looking at possible restrictions to combat the third wave, and called for balance.
“Bans, curfews and shutdowns are hugely damaging and have a questionable impact on public health. Let us get the balance right,” she said.
Speaking on the alcohol bans and restrictions that were implemented in the past, Mavuso said that “unnecessary damage was caused” by the fact that bans were open-ended – so the industry could not even plan for how long they would need to suspend operations for.
As a result, the industry – which had faced four bans during the pandemic, most recently over Easter – calculated that it lost R36.3 billion from the first three bans alone. Government, meanwhile, lost billions in tax from the loss of excise duties.
Saapa said that, while it acknowledges the alcohol industry’s concerns around alcohol bans, it only has itself to blame – adding that the industry to could avoid bans if it were more open to legislation changes.
“Saapa maintains that, if the industry wants to avoid future bans, it should stop opposing the adoption by government of new legislation, eg. the Liquor Amendment Bill.
“An amended Liquor Act would mean better long-term regulation of the distribution, trading and marketing of alcohol – a change for the better in social drinking norms, and a reduction in the economic and social burden of alcohol-attributable harm on the country,” it said.
Mavuso said any additional restrictions being considered for South Africa’s third wave must focus on protecting both lives and livelihoods – adding that the priority should be to set out safe operating protocols and let business get on with adapting to them.