The Beer Association of South Africa (BASA) says it will submit an urgent Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) application to the National Covid Command Council (NCCC) to obtain the data and evidence on which it based its decision to extend an alcohol ban for an additional two weeks – as announced by president Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday evening.
The country will over the next two weeks remain on adjusted alert level 4 of the Covid-19 regulations, albeit with minor changes.
Restaurants will now be able to serve patrons but not host more than 50 customers at a time. Smaller restaurants will have to keep to a maximum of 50% of their capacity. The sale of alcohol remains prohibited, the president said.
The latest alcohol ban, which has been in place since 28 June, has already served a devastating blow to the alcohol industry, putting an estimated 4,603 jobs at risk as well as a potential loss of R5.1 billion in taxes and excise duties, BASA said in a statement following the president’s address to the nation.
“In all our discussions with government, it has been acknowledged that the main driver of infections is large gatherings and the failure to observe mask wearing and social distancing protocols.
“We have also not been provided with the data showing the link between alcohol and increased hospital admissions, despite requesting this from government on numerous occasions,” it said.
BASA said it has therefore decided to submit a PAIA application to understand the rationale for the extension of the current ban, “when it is clear that thousands more jobs will be shed and billions more will be lost to the national fiscus”.
The association pointed to media reports stating that Cabinet decided two weeks ago that the current adjusted level 4 restrictions would be in place for 21 days, but to manage concerns from the business community, Ramaphosa decided to announce that these would be in place for two weeks and would then be reviewed.
BASA questioned its engagements with the National Joint and Intelligence Structure (NatJoints) via the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) on the current lockdown regulations.
“If NatJoints already knew that the ban would be extended then its discussions with the alcohol industry this week were conducted in bad faith and serious questions need to be raised regarding the usefulness of these engagements going forward,” it said.
“The over 400,000 livelihoods that depend on the alcohol industry will simply not survive if the current alcohol ban continues any longer. We simply must ensure that we save both lives and livelihoods during the third wave,” BASA said.
Addressing the nation, the president said for the last two weeks, the country had consistently recorded an average of nearly 20,000 daily new cases. As of Sunday, the country had over 200,000 active Covid cases.
“In the last two weeks, over 4,200 South Africans have lost their lives to Covid-19,” he said.
Gauteng, he said, continues to be the country’s epicentre, accounting for more than half of new infections. However, cases were rapidly increasing in the Western Cape, Limpopo, North West and KwaZulu-Natal.
“Our health system countrywide remains under pressure. Daily hospital admissions across the country are likely to reach the levels observed during the peak of the first two waves. Covid-19 related deaths in hospitals are also increasing,” he said.
SA guided by advice of experts
The president reiterated that the country’s response had been guided by the latest available evidence and advice of experts.
“And this is what we know; we know that reducing the instances where people are in close proximity to others helps to contain infections.
“We know that the Coronavirus spreads at funerals, in office meetings, at parties and family occasions, and restaurants, and that is why we have adjusted alert level 4. We have had to prohibit religious, social and political gatherings. We also know that as more people move the virus moves with them, and spreads,” he said.
“We know that curfews reduce movement and limits the late-night social gatherings that increase the potential for transmission. We know that restrictions on alcohol sales reduce the number of admissions at hospitals and emergency rooms with alcohol-related trauma, such as motor vehicle accidents and interpersonal violence.”
He said reducing alcohol harm frees up much-needed capacity in health facilities to deal with Covid-19 cases, adding that alcohol abuse was associated with gatherings and non-adherence to public health regulations.
“At the same time, we know and recognize the vital contribution of the alcohol industry to our economy,” the president said.
Ultimately, he said, the most important measures to limit transmissions are those that are within an individual’s control.
“The Delta variant is more transmissible. We need to be far more diligent in following the basic precautions with which we are all familiar with, as we implement measures to limit the number of infections. We are acting to protect as many people as possible through vaccination.”