The liquor industry has slammed the government’s decision to ban alcohol sales over weekends as the country scrambles to halt rising Covid-19 cases amid an unstable vaccine roll-out programme.
President Cyril Ramaphosa on Tuesday night moved the country back to level 3 of the lockdown, reducing the number of social gatherings and extending the curfew by one hour.
Ramaphosa said the sale of alcohol from retail outlets for off-site consumption would be permitted between 10am and 6pm from Monday to Thursday, excluding public holidays.
He said alcohol sales for on-site consumption would be permitted per licence conditions up to 9pm, while consumption in all public spaces was strictly forbidden.
The restrictions could further hurt the fragile economy, as the alcohol industry plays an important role as an engine of economic growth and job creation across the value chain.
“If we act too soon, or impose measures that are too severe, the economy will suffer,” Ramaphosa said. “At the same time, if we act too late, or if our response is too weak, we risk losing control of the virus.”
But the industry said the restrictions would place a major strain on retailers, which were still trying to recover from the previous alcohol bans and sales restrictions.
The SA Liquor Brandowners Association (Salba) said the government must explain the rationale behind its decision to restrict trading hours.
Salba chairperson Sibani Mngadi said the approach denied the average working person the right to purchase alcohol legally for home consumption during their sparse free time.
“It is arbitrary and punitive to lower-income groups,” Mngadi said.
The alcohol industry has been advocating for the continued implementation of non-pharmaceutical measures to curb the spread of Covid-19.
The Beer Association of SA said there was still no evidence that restrictions on off-site consumption sales would assist in the fight against the spread of Covid-19.
“We are also concerned about the unintended consequences of limiting retail hours, which further entrenches the illicit industry who use these restrictions as an opportunity to sell illicit products to the public,” it said.
Last month, a report by Euromonitor International revealed that the illicit trade market has almost doubled in the past three years and was now estimated to be worth R20.5 billion.
The industry urged the government to prioritise its mass vaccination roll-out programme.
South Africa’s vaccination roll-out has been adversely affected by shortages in the supply of vaccines, leaving the country relying on the Pfizer vaccine, which requires two doses.
Ramaphosa said South Africa would receive a total of 3.1 million Pfizer doses and 3 million doses from Johnson & Johnson by the end of this month.
South Africa was now vaccinating about 80 000 people a day, with hopes that the number would grow rapidly in the coming weeks.
Salba chief executive Kurt Moore said South Africa must vaccinate 250 000 to 300 000 people a day to avoid significantly higher numbers of Covid-related deaths.
“The industry reiterates its offer to provide whatever logistical assistance the government requires to achieve this huge operational undertaking,” Moore said.