Producing devastating consequences on the economy, but a favourable outcome on people’s health—the restrictions on alcohol have been a sore point of discussion for many South Africans. However, the question now stands, can we expect further restrictions on alcohol with the third wave unfolding?
The Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance in SA (SAAPA SA) believes it is best to act sooner rather than later. Stating, the Government should not wait until the health system becomes overburdened before restrictions are introduced.
Director of SAAPA SA, Maurice Smithers, believes, “Alcohol consumption should not aggravate the predicted impact of the third wave. 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. 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.”
Furthermore, SAAPA SA urged Government to respond to the threatening third wave of the pandemic by strengthening the current restrictions on alcohol access. According to the organisation, doing so will limit pressure on hospitals and keep the infection rate down. Additionally, they said, tightening up restrictions now will save lives and avoid resorting to harsher emergency measures such as imposing a complete ban on alcohol, causing avoidable economic hardship.
Below are the proposed suggestions from SAAPR SA:
Temporarily imposing zero breath and blood concentration levels for drivers during the State of Disaster – such a measure is already contained in the Road Traffic Amendment Bill, which is currently before Parliament and has widespread support but won’t be enacted before the end of 2021.
Banning all special offers for reduced price alcoholic beverages at least until the end of the State of Disaster. (I just heard many South Africans disagree with this one).
Banning all alcohol advertising except at point of sale to reduce the pressure on people to drink.
Public Events and off-consumption sales
- Prohibiting major alcohol-fuelled party events, including street bashes.
- Reducing the gathering numbers to 50 indoors and 100 outdoors.
- Extending the curfew from midnight to 10 pm, seven days a week.
- Announcing that all on-consumption liquor outlets should be closed from 6 pm on public holidays and one day prior to public holidays to discourage the excessive use of alcohol in overcrowded venues and to limit the potential for ‘super-spreader’ events.
- Disallowing alcohol consumption in public places, particularly in parks, on beaches, at swimming pools etc.
- Reducing off-consumption operating hours.
SAAPA SA has noted the alcohol industry’s concerns about a possible new ban in response to the anticipated third wave. The Alliance maintains that if the industry wants to avoid future bans, it should stop opposing the adoption by the Government of new legislation, e.g. the Liquor Amendment Bill.
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.
With SAAPA pushing for more onerous restrictions, the CEO of the Beer Association of South Africa, Patricia Pillay, recently noted that the beer sector had sustained a great deal of damage following the blanket bans on alcohol, resulting in over 100 days of restricted trading.
“The alcohol bans certainly had a truly dire impact on the beer industry, with an estimated 7,400 jobs lost, R14.2 billion in lost sales revenue and more than a R7.8 billion loss in taxes and excise duties. The bans subsequently forced South African Breweries and HeinekenSA to reconsider and halt plans worth billions in investment, which would have created hundreds of jobs.”
As the Beer Association of South Africa (BASA) CEO, she elucidated that she felt bound to protect the livelihoods in their beer chain and responsibly promote the industry. She added, “And, while I am the first to recognise the impact that the abuse of alcohol can have, I believe it important that we diagnose this problem correctly.”
The essence of the problem that we face, as Pillay explains, is that a minority of South Africans binge drink. “In doing so, they regularly pose a danger to themselves and those around them. If we are to alleviate the harm that excessive drinking causes, we need interventions which specifically target excessive drinking. Demonising an entire industry or restricting the freedoms of those that enjoy a drink in a responsible manner will not result in the behavioural change we need to see from those who do drink excessively.”
She further notes that as seen from previous bans, people who drink alcohol to excess will find a way to do so regardless of restrictions. Prohibition enables the illicit alcohol market to flourish, which currently accounts for 15% of all alcohol sales by volume, resulting in a fiscal loss of R6.4 billion per annum.
While there is an obligation and need to fight alcohol abuse, she stresses that it is essential to inculcate a culture of moderate drinking, which influences people to make better choices.
According to Pillay, the beer industry is working with Government and other social partners at the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC) to address the underlying societal issues linked to alcohol abuse and to ensure that a fourth ban is avoided.
What are your thoughts on the matter? Do you feel stricter alcohol restrictions will assist the healthcare system during the third wave? Or do you think it will adversely affect the country in the long run?
Share your views in the comment section below.