The liquor industry is once again calling on government to lift the ban on alcohol. Their latest call is based on suggestions by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) to create a safer drinking environment in the country.

During an interview with Business Day TV on July 31, SAMRC President Dr Glenda Gray and Prof Charles Parry, Director of Alcohol, Tobacco and other Drugs Research Unit of the SAMRC said the pressure on hospital beds across the country has not been as severe as expected.

“We now need to start looking at planning for lifting of the temporary ban on alcohol sales. And we need to look at what measures, so that we can perhaps start planning for them in a few weeks’ time, 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,” said Prof Parry.

According to the liquor industry, Gauteng reported a 57% occupation rate with 5 500 patients using the 9 576 public hospital beds available last week. In the Western Cape, hospital beds have a 71% occupancy, and the province’s infections appear to be stabilising.

“My 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. We have achieved the lives, now we need to look at livelihoods,” added Dr. Gray during the interview.

The SAMRC recently released a proposal detailing a 10-step plan to allow the sale of alcohol to continue in a safe manner. These points include:

  1. Reduce selling days to three per week, e.g. Monday to Wednesday or Tuesday to Thursday (9am-5pm).
  2. Limit quantities purchased per person at a particular outlet per day to make it harder to purchase for on-selling without a licence (perhaps the equivalent of 12 bottles, or 2 boxes, of 750ml wine or 12x330ml 6-pack beers or 4 bottles of 750ml spirits or 48x500ml cider), and the maximum quantities allowed to be sold should also be the maximum amounts allowed to be transported in a vehicle without a permit.
  3. Limit container sizes of beer and cider allowed for sale at this time to no more than 500ml, and wine and spirits to no more than 750ml.
  4. All sales should be subject to presentation of ID for age verification and quantity control.
  5. Diminish drink-driving by enforcing a maximum blood alcohol concentration (BAC) level for drivers of 0.02g alcohol/100ml of blood (or breath equivalent).
  6. Increase random breath testing of drivers.
  7. Mandatory testing for blood alcohol after serious motor vehicle collisions.
  8. Marketing of alcohol should be suspended immediately except at points of sale, with no “lifestyle” advertising and no special offers permitted.
  9. Alcohol deliveries must be effected only by drivers directly employed by licensed alcohol outlets to ensure that there can be consequences for violations in terms of selling, for example, to under-aged youth or to already intoxicated persons, and all deliveries must be subject to ID verification and take place only during the prevailing off-consumption alcohol outlet trading hours.
  10. Alcohol-related trauma should be made a notifiable condition at trauma units and mechanisms be set up to facilitate the use of biomarkers or validated clinical assessment tools.

Liquor industry heads from the National Liquor Traders Council, South African Liquor Brandowners Association (SALBA), the Beer Association of South Africa (BASA), Vinpro, the Liquor Traders Association of South Africa (LTASA) have argued that the ban should be lifted because it is deeply impacting the economy and livelihoods of those in the industry.

“The liquor industry has a wide and deep value chain employing almost one million people across the country. The Government’s decision has serious economic consequences, placing hundreds of thousands of livelihoods at risk. The hardest hit will be the significant number of smaller retailers and taverners. The immediate enforcement of the ban will have other unintended consequences which includes further job losses throughout the value chain,” read a statement on July 13, when the second ban was instilled with immediate effect.

“During the 9 week lockdown, the alcohol industry lost R18-billion in revenue and R3.4-billion in excise tax (Excise tax is lost from the growth in sale of illegal alcohol products which don’t pay taxes.)”

The industry has requested that the Ministry of Finance defer the R5-billion owed to South African Revenue Services (SARS) until the ban is lifted.

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