South Africa alcohol ban over Easter ‘unjustified’

A potential ban on alcohol in South Africa over Easter weekend could result in ‘irreversible damage’ to smaller businesses, a trade group has warned.

South Africa has been hit with three alcohol bans over the last 12 months

South Africa introduced a total ban on alcohol sales at the start of the pandemic, which lasted from 27 March to 1 June. The ban was brought back on 12 July but reversed a second time on 17 August. In mid-December, a third ban was put in place, which was lifted on 1 February.

Ahead of the Easter weekend on 2 April, the South African Liquor Brand owners Association (Salba) has made a number of recommendations to the government on the measures needed to deal with the next Covid-19 surge.

The trade group noted that measures on the industry can be introduced in a ‘less damaging manner’ to help alleviate transmissions.

A further ban would mean small and medium-sized alcohol businesses would be unlikely to survive, Salba warned.

Sibani Mngadi, chairperson of Salba, noted: “The pandemic and alcohol bans have brought the alcohol industry and any associated problems of alcohol harm into sharp focus.

“While it is undeniable that some people have an unhealthy relationship with alcohol that could lead to harmful behaviour, to single out alcohol as the root of all trauma is wrong.

“Weighed against the evidence, the negative impact of a further blanket ban on alcohol seems unjustifiable.

“In order to ascribe the drop in trauma admissions to the alcohol bans, one also has to control for the influence of all the other imposed regulatory changes such as the curfew and restrictions on gatherings.

“Alcohol restrictions were imposed at the same time as the curfew, so it is thus disingenuous to suppose that the decline in trauma cases was due to solely the alcohol ban.”

Salba recommended a reintroduction of the 11pm to 4am curfew, a 50% reduction on the number of people allowed to gather, and a maximum of 50 people indoors and 100 people outdoors.

The trade body also proposed that travel into other provinces should not be prohibited in order to ‘protect economic recovery and growth in the tourism and hospitality sector’.

Furthermore, Salba said alcohol sales should continue under current licence conditions, with limits being introduced only if hospital capacity becomes severely strained.

Salba said the entire alcohol industry has been ‘irreparably damaged’ by the bans, which have led to the closure of businesses, loss of jobs and income, and a drop in investment.

The last three alcohol bans resulted in a sales loss of South African rand R36.3 billion (US$2.4bn) for the industry, Salba said.

Mngadi called on the government to engage further with the industry on harm reduction, alcohol policy and regulations.

He said: “We would like to partner with [the] government and civil society to find and implement solutions to real challenges in our society.”

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