The head of government’s Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on Covid-19, professor Koleka Mlisana, says that the country will need to introduce further lockdown restrictions to bring the third Covid-19 wave under control and free up hospital space.
Mlisana told IOL that a number of issues need to be discussed, including the sale of alcohol and limitations on gatherings.
“I know there are always concerns about liquor, so there definitely has to be close interactions and discussions about that,” she said “We definitely have to get into stricter restrictions right now otherwise we will end up with a caving healthcare system.”
The National Liquor Traders Council says that it is aware of the speculation around further restrictions around the sale of alcohol, but warned that thousands of township households will be impacted financially.
“We’ve already had a total of 20 weeks of alcohol bans and many of our members have been forced to close their doors forever as a result,” said Lucky Ntimane, convenor of the National Liquor Traders Council.
“It will take some of these families generations to climb back out of poverty, and there is no vaccine for poverty.”
“Banning alcohol is not an effective strategy to deal with Covid-19. People don’t stop drinking when you ban alcohol, they just find other channels to buy from. This is actually a gift to the illicit trade, at the expense of legal businesses built up over many years,” he said.
Ntimane said that the NLTC has written to president Cyril Ramaphosa requesting an urgent meeting to discuss more effective measures to prevent the spread of the virus.
“We know that vaccination must be the top priority, but there are many things we can do in the meantime to assist,” Ntimane said.
“Taverners have been working with the alcohol industry to drastically improve compliance with Covid-19 protocols and liquor licence conditions. We’ve increased the compliance from 75% in October last year to 89% in the latest audit.”
“The problem at the moment is not alcohol, it’s people getting tired of listening to instructions from the authorities and not behaving correctly,” Ntimane said. “We are helping to spread the message that now is the time for maximum vigilance.”
The reintroduction of alcohol restrictions could have other knock-on effects, with South African Breweries (SAB) warning against future bans for the country.
SAB recently reinstated its investment programme that was cancelled last year, allocating R2 billion for its home operations.
The brewery cancelled R5 billion in investments in the country due to government’s multiple alcohol bans. The group halted R2.5 billion in 2020 and a further R2.5 billion was placed on hold in January 2021.
The move to reinstate R2 billion in investment was a show of good faith, it said, and cautioned that government should consult with the business sector ahead of any future bans.
“The move to implement reasonable measures, as we continue to navigate the pandemic, is a welcomed signal that we can expect to see more consultation in the future and that blanket bans will be a thing of the past,” said Richard Rivett-Carnac, AB InBev’s vice president of finance, legal and corporate affairs for the rest of Africa.
“Further collaboration will provide the required confidence boost needed in order to attract further investment to the country,” he said.