Tuesday, 29 December 2020 10:38

By Lehlohonolo Lehana.

Photo Credit: Pixabay.

The Beer Association of South Africa (BASA) has warned that a third alcohol ban for the country, as part of an effort to ease the strain on the healthcare system and medical facilities, will lead to further job losses and increase illicit sales.

President Cyril Ramaphosa banned the sale of alcohol in an address to the nation on Monday evening, as part of a move to an adjusted lockdown level 3, to curb a second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

"One of the more difficult areas of regulation relates to the sale of alcohol," Ramaphosa said. "The liquor industry is a major employer and an important contributor to our economy. Our priority at this time, however, must be to save lives," he said.

Ramaphosa said that the consumption of alcohol has once again driven up the number of trauma cases in hospitals.

Worryingly, hospitals are reporting being at, or close to maximum capacity – while healthcare workers are exhausted and becoming infected in higher numbers. "They are almost at breaking point," Ramaphosa said.

"All because of our actions, and failure to take responsibility. Unless we act now, and act decisively…thousands of more people will lose their lives."

A further 7,458 new cases were recorded on 28 December, taking the cumulative total since the start of the pandemic to 1,011,871. The country has reported 27,071 deaths from the virus, according to the latest data from the Department of Health.

"We have let down our guard, and unfortunately we are now paying the price," Ramaphosa said. "We can only weather this storm if we immediately and fundamentally change our mindsets.

BASA said in a statement that it acknowledges the severity of the Covid-19 second wave and, with it, the immense pressure on the healthcare system. "Given the surge in infections, BASA understands the need for urgent interventions to stabilise the healthcare system."

"We do not, however, agree with the blanket alcohol ban announced by the president in his address."

It noted that the previous two 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 being forced to shut their doors.

In addition, the government lost R7.4 billion in taxes and excise duties that could have been used in the fight against Covid-19. "This third ban will do untold economic damage to the beer sector and the 415,000 livelihoods it supports."

BASA said it is concerned that another ban will further entrench the web of illicit alcohol trade as consumers look for ways around the ban.

Already, before Covid-19, the World Health Organisation had estimated that a quarter (24%) of all alcohol consumed in South Africa was sold illicitly, it said.

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.

"Methanol poisoning can cause blindness, liver damage and even death. An increase in illicit trade also means that the taxes and duties that usually accrue from the legitimate sale of alcohol are lost to the fiscus."

Instead of a blanket ban, BASA said that the government needs to regulate sensibly and to ensure that those regulations are adhered to. There is much that the industry and government can do to encourage moderate, responsible consumption and to penalise those who break the rules.