Home South Africa Growing calls for alcohol ban as SA faces third wave

Growing calls for alcohol ban as SA faces third wave

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Health Minister Zweli Mkhize says new restrictions are inevitable as the country approaches the third wave

File picture: Karen Sandison

THERE have been growing calls for government to impose restrictions on alcohol as the country approaches the third wave.

Two consecutive weeks of increases in positive Covid-19 cases in SA; 12,531 positive cases were confirmed for the week May 3-9 (46% increase over the previous week), and 17,133 cases for May 10-16 (38% increase over the previous week).

Although Health Minister Zweli Mkhize says new restrictions are inevitable as the country approaches the third wave, he has also called for the public not to panic and said discussions were under way with the National Coronavirus Command Council, on what is the best way to reduce the numbers from increasing.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, who is currently on a state visit in France, reiterated Mkhize’s call when he told France24 that government was “gearing up measures” in preparation for a third wave.

“We are watching it very closely, and if (the third wave) comes, we are ready. The issue of a lockdown is something that will only be looked at depending on the severity of the third Covid-19 wave. A lockdown would only be looked at depending on how badly the country is hit by an influx in new cases,” he said.

According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), the Northern Cape, Free State and the North West are showing signs of either being in the third wave or close to it. While the Gauteng government confirmed the province officially entered the third wave on Friday.

In dealing with the second wave of Covid-19 infections during the festive season, government implemented a full-on ban on alcohol sales from December 28, 2020 to February 1, 2021 and during the Easter weekend restricted sales for off-site consumption.

With the infection rate peaking, across the country, the South African Alcohol Policy Alliance (SAPAA) wants the government to limit the availability of liquor in the country during the impending third wave of Covid-19.

In a statement released on Tuesday, the Alliance director, Maurice Smithers, said alcohol consumption should not aggravate the predicted impact of the third wave.

’’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,’ said Smithers.

’’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.“

However, the South African Liquor Brandowners Association (Salba) says preparation for a third wave should be based on science and past experience.

Salba chairperson Sibani Mngadi said the recent rise in the infection rate was a great concern and called on the government to step up the vaccination programme.

“The industry has repeatedly said it is willing to provide whatever logistical assistance the government requires to achieve this huge operational undertaking. We are committed to playing our role in the economic recovery of SA.”

“We continue to seek a social compact with the government, industry, and civil society to promote responsible trading and sensible alcohol consumption. Open and transparent discussions on strategy and implementation should be the starting point,” said Mngadi.

According to Salba, sales revenue lost as a result of the bans was approximately R36.3 billion. The gross domestic product loss owing to the prohibitions is about R51.9 billion while tax revenue loss, excluding excise, to the fiscus from the value chain arising from the bans amounts to R29.3 billion.

Meanwhile, several authors of a new study titled “Trauma trends during COVID-19 alcohol prohibition at a South African regional hospital” say a complete prohibition on the sale of alcohol could be a sensible policy to help the country through the health crises.

“Each time a complete ban was instituted, there was a significant drop in trauma volume which was lost by allowing alcohol (even partial sales). These findings suggest that temporary, complete bans on alcohol sales can be used to decrease health facility traffic during national emergencies,” said the authors of the study.