While South Africans and liquor traders welcomed the lifting of the ban on alcohol sales, the South African Alcohol Policy Alliance (Saapa) has expressed great concern, saying it is worried that government has moved too fast with the easing of alcohol restrictions.
This after President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Monday evening that the sale of alcohol by licensed premises for off-site consumption will now be permitted from Mondays to Thursdays from 10am to 6pm. Alcohol sales for on-site consumption at restaurants, bars, and taverns will also be permitted throughout the week from 10am to 10pm.
The lobby group believes that it would have been more prudent for government to make alcohol available again gradually, starting with the limited availability of alcohol for off-site consumption.
“While we celebrate with the rest of the country the reduction over the past weeks in the Covid-19 infection and death rates, and the arrival of 1 million vaccine doses from India, we are worried that government has moved too far too fast with the easing of alcohol restrictions,” said Saapa SA director Maurice Smithers in a statement.
Smithers said Saapa is supportive of the decision to permit off-consumption sales from Mondays to Thursdays, but if this had included the right of on-consumption outlets to sell “take-aways” to their patrons, it would have provided economic relief to the embattled alcohol sector while also limiting the negative impact on the fight against Covid-19 pandemic.
“The rise in trauma cases would have been limited and, as importantly, the risk of alcohol use contributing to the spread of the virus would have been kept to a minimum,” he said.
Smithers said by allowing on-site consumption of alcohol from Monday to Sunday at restaurants, bars, and taverns will dramatically increase the risk of a rise in trauma cases, and once again put unnecessary pressure on hospitals.
“It’s a known fact that most alcohol-related trauma cases are a consequence either of drinking and driving or of interpersonal violence occurring at gatherings in on-consumption outlets and at other social gatherings. It has also become apparent that when people are drinking in on-consumption outlets, they forget about the Covid-19 protocols – wearing masks, maintaining social distancing, and sanitising regularly – thereby creating fertile conditions for the virus to infect more people.
“Saapa believes it would have been more prudent to make alcohol available again gradually, starting with limited availability of alcohol from off-consumption outlets. Then, depending on the success or otherwise of efforts to control the pandemic, as well as the impact of allowing the off-consumption sale of alcohol, further restrictions could have been lifted judiciously,” Smithers said.
The organisation said after the first ban on alcohol sales was lifted on 1 June 2020, there was an immediate spike in alcohol-related trauma cases, even though only off-site consumption sales were allowed.
“Six weeks later, government found itself forced to reimpose the ban. That ban was lifted in September and virtually all restrictions on alcohol were removed by the end of November. Alcohol-fuelled super-spreader events caused a rise in the number of cases and once again put pressure on hospitals, necessitating a further ban from the end of December.”
Saapa believes that government should have adopted a more cautious approach that would limit the need for future bans on alcohol sales, while also allowing the alcohol sector to recover.