A vaccine passport to buy booze in South Africa?

 ·25 Aug 2021

The liquor industry is considering introducing a ‘vaccine passport’ to buy alcohol in South Africa.

The South African Liquor Brand Owners Association (Salba) will discuss the proposal on Wednesday (25 August) as part of a broader push to increase Covid-19 vaccinations in the country, BusinessDay reported.

“Like most in business, the industry’s initial reaction has been to promote vaccination among thousands of people employed in the sector. The industry is reviewing any potential approach in supporting a broader societal agenda to encourage vaccination,” said Salba chair Sibani Mngadi.

The project is also set to be discussed by government authorities at the National Health Council on Thursday.

The proposal was first mooted by Limpopo Health MEC Phophi Ramathuba, who said her department was holding discussions with liquor traders in the province about refusing to sell alcohol to unvaccinated customers.

In an interview on Monday (23 August), Ramathuba said that while there is no national legislation that forces people to vaccinate, the government needs to look at other ways of increasing vaccine uptake.

“It is not compulsory in our country, and that includes Limpopo. However, as a health department, we can’t just fold our arms and keep complaining about vaccine hesitancy when we know we can engage the liquor industry.”

Ramathuba said that the liquor industry is one of the segments which is hardest hit when a new wave of Covid-19 cases impacts the country, with the government quick to ban alcohol to help reduce the strain on hospitals.

The MEC said that there is an opportunity for South Africa to avert a fourth Covid-19 wave of infections later this year if enough people are vaccinated.

She said it is up to the liquor industry to decide whether it accepts the government’s proposals  – but warned that alcohol could be banned again if another wave hits the country.

South Africa has faced complete alcohol sales bans on four separate occasions since the end of March 2020 as part of the country’s lockdown restrictions. Under the country’s current adjusted level 3 lockdown, which came into effect on 26 July, the sale of alcohol from retail outlets for off-site consumption is permitted between 10h00 and 18h00 from Monday to Thursday.

Alcohol sales for on-site consumption are permitted as per licence conditions up to 20h00.

Passport for tourism and events 

The Department of Tourism has also hinted at the introduction of a vaccine passport for South Africa to boost travel and events.

Briefing parliament this week, Tourism director-general Nkhumeleni Victor Tharage said that the key issue is a lack of standardisation around vaccine passports worldwide.

“Even in some jurisdictions that have opted to apply this (passport), there isn’t yet a sense of uniformity. When we don’t have a single, standardised specimen, it is a little bit difficult to say which one is which.”

Tharage said that South Africa faces the same dilemma in verifying tourists that arrive in the country from overseas.

He said that the government is also cautious about introducing a vaccine passport system that discriminates against certain groups of people. “When we reopen, and when everyone is starting to travel, it should not be discriminatory. And that principle has been reiterated time and time again.”

Another issue considered for the vaccine passport is whether they will be a requirement for events. Tharage said he is confident that this is something that the government could easily introduce on short notice.

“At the end of the day, it’s about being able to get the necessary confidence from consumers, tourists and trade. If we don’t do that, then there will be a negative impact on our recovery.”

Read: No vaccine, no alcohol, says Limpopo MEC

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