As a third wave of Covid-19 infections loom in Mzansi, a lobby group has “opportunistically called” for stricter regulations on alcohol sales. This has caused the South African Liquor Brandowners’ Association (Salba) to come out guns blazing against the SA Alcohol Policy Alliance (Saapa).
Saapa has urged government to respond to the latest coronavirus threat by strengthening the current restrictions on alcohol access, and to further limit the advertising of alcohol products.
Given health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize’s warning that new restrictions are inevitable, Saapa said government “should not wait until the health system becomes overburdened before restrictions are introduced”.
“Alcohol consumption should not aggravate the predicted impact of the third wave,” said Saapa director Maurice Smithers.
Salba, however, has hit back, adding that the Saapa statement demonstrates their lack of regard for the country’s economy, growing unemployment rates and the collapse of businesses.
Also, according to Salba the call for restrictions on alcohol advertising and other alcohol policy interventions are irrelevant to the national response to the possibility of the third wave of Covid-19.
Saapa list of demands
Saapa also made a number of demands to government. This included the:
- banning of all special offers for alcoholic beverages;
- banning of all alcohol advertising, except at points of sale;
- prohibiting major “alcohol-fuelled party events”, including street bashes;
- reducing gathering numbers to 50 indoors and 100 outdoors;
- reducing the curfew from midnight to 22:00, seven days a week; and
- announcing that all on-consumption liquor outlets should be closed from 18:00 on public holidays and one day prior to public holidays to limit the potential for super-spreader events.
Salba chairperson hits back
Reacting to this proposal, Sibani Mngadi, the chairperson of Salba, said it was particularly disturbing given that Saapa has made no contribution to national Covid-19 response.
“We [the alcohol industry] donated more than 200 million litres of pure alcohol when the country was facing shortages of sanitiser. We have supported government procurement of PPEs and other consumables for hospitals,” said Mngadi.
“We have hired community patrollers to support compliance with Covid-19 protocols in outlets and financially supported the recovery of the restaurants, bars and taverns sector.”
He called on Saapa to publicly demonstrate their contribution, if any, to the promotion of responsible alcohol consumption.
“What Saapa fails to understand is that South Africa is a constitutional democracy with established and transparent rules for policy formulation and amending legislation. Lockdown regulations are there to help our country to respond to a specific, major problem of the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Salba added that an expedited vaccination roll-out was the ultimate solution to restrictions so that the economy could move toward recovery.
This required urgency in terms of rolling out the programme. The alcohol industry has repeatedly said it was willing to provide whatever logistical assistance government required to help achieve this huge operational undertaking.