Johannesburg - The SA liquor industry has called on government to review the alcohol ban amid concerns of job losses and an increase in illicit sales.
President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday night re-instituted the alcohol ban and a stricter curfew between 9pm and 6am in a bid to contain the spread of the virus.
According to the gazetted regulations, “the sale, dispensing and distribution of liquor for off-site consumption and on-site consumption is prohibited.”
The Beer Association of South Africa (Basa), which comprises the Craft Brewers Association, Heineken South Africa and South African Breweries, said the organisation understood the need for urgent inventions to stabilise the healthcare system. However, Basa did not agree with the blanket alcohol ban.
Basa spokesperson Nicole Mirkin said in a statement the two previous alcohol bans had a devastating impact on the beer industry with 7 400 job losses, R14.2 billion in lost sales revenue and 30% of breweries forced to shut their doors.
“This third ban will do untold economic damage to the beer sector and the 415 000 livelihoods it supports,” she said.
The association said it was concerned another ban would further entrench the web of illicit alcohol trade as consumers look for ways around the ban.
“The rise in the illicit manufacture, trade and consumption of alcohol caused by prohibition poses serious health risks as health and safety standards are bypassed,” Mirkin said.
Basa called on government to regulate sensibly and ensure regulations were adhered to instead of a blanket ban.
“Basa believes that a third alcohol ban will do more harm than good. We will therefore continue to engage with the government on what needs to be done to save lives and livelihoods as we work together to beat Covid-19,” she said.
The South African Liquor Brand Owners Association (Salba), which comprises spirits and wine producers, said the association was also concerned about the illicit market, particularly spirits.
“During level five and four we did see a resurgence of networks of alcohol smugglers either trading in legitimate products that they are smuggling illegally and others doing counterfeit products and that is a major risk,” Salba spokesperson Sibani Mngadi said.
He said the alcohol ban was inappropriate.
“We believe in adjusted localised interventions when you are able to focus on the hot spots and make sure that you contain and have allocated interventions. We believe that is a correct approach rather than limiting everyone’s rights to solve a specific issue,” said Mngadi.
Meanwhile, trade unions in the healthcare sector have welcomed the return of lockdown level 3 and the ban of alcohol sales.
This comes after the president announced that 4 630 public sector health employees had contracted Covid-19 this month, bringing the total number infected since the start of the pandemic to over 41 000.
The president’s announcement comes on the heels of growing numbers of infections and mortalities. The country recently surpassed the 1 million mark of Covid-9 infections across all provinces.
The National Education, Health and Allied Workers Union [Nehawu] secretary-general, Zola Saphetha said the union welcomed prohibition of alcohol sales due to growing number of trauma cases in healthcare facilities.
“While hospitals are confronted by the skyrocketing numbers of Covid-19 admissions, they also had to deal with growing numbers of people needing medical attention for stabbings, shootings and car accidents."
Saphetha expressed his concerns with the overstretched healthcare system in some of the country's hot spots.
“Some of our healthcare facilities are on the brink of collapse as most institutions have run out of beds, oxygen points and ventilators.”
“Many patients are losing their lives either in ambulances or in waiting areas because of the lack of capacity to attend to more patients. Frontline workers are extremely exhausted from the extra workload because of the rising numbers of infected people. In this regard, we welcome the intention to prosecute those who refuse to wear masks especially in public.”
Saphetha stated that many healthcare institutions were struggling to cope because many workers were absent from work because they had to self-isolate while others had lost their lives.
He said their constant calls for the filling of all vacant posts had largely been ignored by government.
He criticised the government's approach in the healthcare sector.
“The president elected to just throw statistics around without a comprehensive plan to protect front line workers who are the bedrock of our national response and our first line of defence.”
The Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA said Ramaphosa’s announcement would reduce pressure on healthcare workers in the emergency trauma wards.
“This decision will result in fewer trauma cases and thus open up bed space for Covid-related admissions.”
“We are particularly happy with the prohibition of sale of alcohol at retailers and for indoor consumption, as incidents out of these have led to a sizeable increase in emergencies at our healthcare facilities."
The union also pleaded with South Africans to think of this decision as a gesture of appreciation of human life rather than a punitive decision.
The National Union of Public Service and Allied Workers communications officer Kagiso Makoe said they were concerned with the safety of healthcare workers in the second wave of the virus.
“It has become evident that our healthcare systems are overwhelmed. It’s time that the assistant nurses are integrated into permanent positions to share the workload.”
Makoe also urged the health minister to ensure that front line workers were provided with quality personal protective equipment.