The South African Alcohol Policy Alliance (Saapa) is calling on the government to introduce alcohol restrictions now and limit sales and advertising in South Africa in preparation for a (possible) third wave.
While the health department confirmed last week that it is on “high alert” with rising cases and the presence of both the UK and Indian variant in SA, the country has not yet entered a third wave. Gauteng premier David Makhura, however, said last week that Gauteng was officially in its third wave.
Maurice Smithers, Director of Saapa SA, said alcohol consumption should not make the predicted impact of the third wave worse, “We have seen the additional burden on the healthcare system caused by trauma cases related to harmful drinking, through car crashes, incidents of interpersonal violence and gender-based violence,” Smithers said in a statement. “Also, when people consume alcohol, their ability to adhere to Covid-19 protocols – wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and washing hands – can be diminished and contribute to the spreading of the virus.”
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The group has brazenly proposed a list of ten alcohol restrictions, that would directly affect SA’s alcohol trade, including events and gatherings and any material that could promote drinking:
- Prohibit, major alcohol-fuelled parties and events
- Reduce gathering numbers to 50 indoors and 100 outdoors
- Extend curfew from “midnight to 22h00” seven days a week
- All on-site consumption liquor outlets must close by 18h00 on public holidays and one day prior to public holidays to discourage the excessive buying and use of alcohol and to limit the potential for super-spreader events
- Ban alcohol consumption in public places, like parks, on beaches, at swimming pools etc
- Suspend the licenses of outlets that break alcohol or Covid-19 regulations for at least three months, or revoking them entirely
- Reduce off-site consumption operating hours
- Temporarily impose zero breath and blood concentration levels for drivers until the State of Disaster ends
- Ban all special offers, happy hours, reduced price alcoholic beverages offerings until the end of the State of Disaster
- Ban all alcohol advertising except at the point of sale to reduce the influence of drinking
The activist’s position is in opposition to the alcohol industry and other business groups, which have told the government that further restrictions will destroy small businesses and bring about more job losses.
Speaking to BusinessTech, 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.
Mavuso cited that the alcohol industry has calculated a loss of R36.3 billion from the first three bans alone while the Government lost billions in tax from the loss of excise duties that could have been used for Covid relief. “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,” Mavuso said.
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Saapa said it “notes” the alcohol industry’s concerns about a possible new alcohol ban, but said that if the industry wants to avoid future bans, it should stop opposing proposed regulatory changes to the distribution, trading and marketing of alcohol, such as the Liquor Amendment Bill. You can read more on that bill, right here.
“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.
For now, Saapa is urging the government to strengthen the current restrictions on alcohol access, “Doing so will limit pressure on hospitals and keep the infection rate down. It will save lives and avoid having to resort to harsher emergency measures such as imposing a complete ban on alcohol and causing avoidable economic hardship,” it said.
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