Stakeholders in the alcohol industry welcomed a recent call by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) for government to start preparing for the lifting of the ban on the formal sale of alcohol.
According to the alcohol industry, the call made by SAMRC president Dr Glenda Gray and SAMRC alcohol, tobacco and other drugs research unit director Professor Charles Parry on July 31 recognises that there was no immediate severe pressure on hospital beds set aside for the treatment of Covid-19 patients.
Gray and Parry acknowledged during a radio interview that the anticipated excessive pressure on hospitals as a result of a surge in Covid-19 infection was not materialising.
The South African alcohol industry includes but is not limited to the National Liquor Traders Council, South African Liquor Brandowners Association, the Beer Association of South Africa, Vinpro, the National Liquor Traders Council and manufacturers.
In terms of government’s argument that a ban on alcohol sales would free up hospital beds with fewer people being admitted for alcohol-induced trauma, Parry says it is now required to start looking at planning for lifting of the temporary ban on alcohol sales.
“We need to look at measures . . . maybe even talking about lifting the ban on alcohol sales, particularly if you say that around the country there is not so much pressure around the hospital beds.”
Gray, who is also a member of the Ministerial Advisory Council advising Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize on the Covid-19 response, says her recommendation to government is to be nimble.
“We have achieved the impact by having a curfew and prohibition on alcohol. We have achieved what we needed. Now we need to address other issues [such as] livelihoods.”
The alcohol industry states that the prohibition of alcohol sales is having a devastating effect on people’s livelihoods, with more than 100 000 of the almost one-million jobs supported by the alcohol industry value chain having been lost in the first phase of the ban at lockdown alert levels 4 and 5.
Alcohol industry spokesperson Sibani Mngadi says the SAMRC is advising government differently 19 days after the “economically devastating” decision to ban alcohol with immediate effect.
“If the government is to be consistent in its approach to the ban, it needs to urgently open talks for the orderly reopening of alcohol trade to prevent further losses of jobs and revenue for both the State and business.”
More than R19-billion in revenue and R3.4-billion in excise tax to government was lost during the first phase of the ban on alcohol sales.
Further, the industry has requested the National Treasury to defer the payment of a further R5-billion currently due to the South Africa Revenue Services until the ban on alcohol sales has been lifted.