According to official figures, 55 568 South Africans have died of COVID-19 to date.
It is easy to read this statistic and not see the people, the communities, the families impacted by the loss of one or more loved ones.
As South Africa braces itself to withstand the third wave of COVID-19 infections, saving lives has to trump everything else, including profits.
The Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance in SA (SAAPA SA) continues to call for restrictions on alcohol sales and a complete ban on advertising during the current State of Disaster. This does not translate to calling for a ban on access to alcohol. We have never been in favour of a complete ban on alcohol. Furthermore, we are not anti-alcohol, but we are unashamedly anti-alcohol harm.
We have called on government to impose considered restrictions now to decrease harmful drinking and the associated flouting of COVID-19 protocols.
Yesterday, 3 641 new cases were recorded in South Africa and this number is expected to spike over the next weeks.
While, as an organisation, we have never been unsympathetic towards job losses in industries that rely on alcohol sales, our priority is to advocate for public health, safety and well-being.
There is no ambiguity about our agenda. We publicly acknowledge that we are advocating for strengthened legislation that will reduce the Impact of alcohol harm during the pandemic and, as importantly, once the pandemic is over.
Livelihoods are important, but lives even more so – and acting now to restrict hours of trading and social gatherings fuelled by alcohol consumption – where social distancing is not adhered to and masks are not worn – will make a major difference and save lives. And it may help to avoid a crisis situation in which government decides that the only way out is to impose a complete ban on access to alcohol.
We don’t want to see South Africa in a situation similar to that of India and other parts of the world where the healthcare system has collapsed under the burden of a surge in COVID-19 cases and thousands die each day.
Yesterday, the death toll in India was 4,529, a new global record. In case anyone thinks that could never happen to South Africa, bear in mind that this translates to a death rate of 4 people per million. On 19 January 2021, 839 people died from COVID-19 in South Africa. This represents a death rate of 14 per one million people!
This is why we cannot afford not to act now and take the necessary action to curb infections and deaths. And surely it is better, from an economic perspective, to have targeted restrictions which allow for the continued trade in alcohol, rather than a complete ban where the industry has to shut down altogether?
Let us be clear: we fully respect our country’s Constitution and the rights and freedoms that it bestows on us, the people, including the right to engage in economic activity of one’s choice. However, rights are not absolute, especially if they impact negatively on other rights, such as the right to health and safety. Furthermore, the Constitution accords elected representatives and public officials the obligation and the authority to govern the country and to make laws that serve the interests of all South Africans and give life to the Constitution and its Bill of Rights. This applies in no small measure to the need for government to protect the public from alcohol-related harm, especially (but not only) during a national pandemic.
SAAPA SA continues to call for the following initial measures in response to the pending third wave:
- Using the Disaster Management Act to impose 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 wide-spread 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.
- 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 10pm, seven days a week.
- Announcing that all on-consumption liquor outlets should be closed from 6pm 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.
- Suspending for a minimum three months, or revoking, the licences of outlets that break alcohol and/or COVID-19 regulations.
For more information or interview requests, please contact