Here's how alcohol industry thinks SA can limit Covid-19 while mitigating economic harm

The industry says a total ban on alcohol sales will increase the illicit trade and also encourage interprovincial travel should the restriction be for Gauteng only.

Stop gatherings, encourage work-from-home policies and maintain current level three lockdown restrictions while accelerating vaccine rollout, liquor industry proposes, as alternatives to a total booze ban.
Stop gatherings, encourage work-from-home policies and maintain current level three lockdown restrictions while accelerating vaccine rollout, liquor industry proposes, as alternatives to a total booze ban.
Image: Sebabatso Mosamo

As the country waits to hear what restrictions President Cyril Ramaphosa will put in place when he addresses the country on Sunday night, the alcohol industry has thrown in its own recommendations on restrictions the government can introduce to curb the increasing number of Covid-19 cases.

A total ban on alcohol sales is not one of them.

The industry has recommended that a total ban on alcohol not be put in place, arguing that as much as lives need to be saved, livelihoods also need to be protected. 

This is just one of the recommendations that the industry has made to the national coronavirus command council because they fear, should the total ban of alcohol sales be implemented, this will encourage further growth in illicit trade, which according to the industry has grown from 12% to 22% of the overall alcohol market by volume.

The Beer Association of SA  (Basa) said the three previous alcohol bans resulted in over 7,400 jobs lost in the beer industry, R14.2bn in lost sales revenue and more than a R7.8bn loss in taxes and excise duties.

“Another ban will offer a severe blow to thousands of small businesses still trying to get back on their feet from the previous bans, resulting in even more job losses, business closures and loss in revenue for the national fiscus. This is true for all producers, but most especially for small brewers who are currently barely surviving,” Basa said in a statement.

The alcohol industry also said a total ban of sales in Gauteng, which is facing a storm of infections, could encourage interprovincial travel to surrounding provinces like the Free State, Limpopo, Mpumalanga and North West at a time when this should be kept to a minimum.

“The illicit market is outside the regulatory reach of government and operates mostly uncontrolled, leading to devastating consequences from a health and economic perspective. A fourth ban would cause irreparable damage to small and medium-sized businesses that would be unlikely to survive,” the industry said in a statement.

Action plan

The industry committed to continuing supporting measures to reduce the spike in coronavirus infections during the third wave including the president’s call to remain vigilant and adopt the government’s Covid-19 regulations.

The industry recommended that:

  • The current restrictions for off-site consumption on alcohol sales, which are Monday to Thursday from 10am to 6pm, remain in place;
  • On-consumption alcohol premises (taverns) be allowed to sell alcohol for off-consumption;
  • Food businesses that sell alcohol (restaurants) be allowed to serve alcohol subject to a strict curfew, limit to the number of patrons allowed per outlet and enforcement of health protocols; and .
  • Registered micro alcohol producers (wineries microbreweries and micro-distilleries) be allowed to continue to operate as per the current level 3 restrictions.

On gatherings, the industry said it supports the prohibition of all gatherings because there is sufficient evidence that large gatherings contribute significantly to the rapid increase of infections.

The industry said it also supports the call for employers to implement a work from home principle wherever it is possible. “We will be encouraging all players within our value chain — who collectively support one million jobs — to implement the work from measures as much as it is possible.”

The industry has also called on the government to work with business and other sectors to speed up the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine to protect lives.

“Failure to reach adequately vaccine coverage, especially of the vulnerable sections of the population, render our nation vulnerable to a severe affect of further Covid-19 waves and undermines the process of economic recovery,” the industry said in a statement. 

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