Liquor industry strikes first: If govt wants another alcohol sales ban, it must prove why

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  • Speculation has been rife that the Easter weekend could see a crackdown on alcohol sales.
  • No formal announcement has yet been made regarding updated lockdown restrictions. 
  • The liquor industry, however, has launched a preemptive strike, warning that a fresh ban on alcohol sales could be devastating.

South African alcohol industry lobby group the SA Liquor Brandowners Association (SALBA) has launched a preemptive strike amid fears that liquor sales could be restricted during upcoming public holidays, saying it would "formally seek reasons" for such a decision.

It urged the Ministerial Advisory Council to distance itself from any further restrictions to liquor sales, saying such a move would be a "clearly unscientific decision".

No formal announcement has been made regarding updated lockdown restrictions, but speculation has been rife that the Easter weekend could see a crackdown on alcohol sales. Sunday Times reported that government is considering restricting or entirely barring the sale of liquor over the Easter weekend, while considering allowing indoor gatherings of up to 1 000 people to accommodate worship services.

City Press, meanwhile, reported that President Cyril Ramaphosa would – according to government insiders – shortly be addressing the nation on temporary lockdown measures over the Easter weekend.

Previously, News24 reported that the National Coronavirus Command Council had been advised, by the Ministerial Advisory Committee, to put the country under Alert Level 2 ahead of the long weekend. The possible restrictions advised included extended curfew hours, smaller gatherings and restrictions on alcohol sales to certain hours.

'No scientific rationale'

But in response to the Sunday Times report – which suggested large gatherings might be allowed in order to accommodate religious services – SALBA said there would be "no scientific rationale" for allowing large gatherings while banning alcohol sales.

It added that should this come to pass, it would formally seek reasons for the move, as well as access to any scientific information that justifies the decision, "from the Ministerial Advisory Council on Covid-19 and/or any other source".

"The only outcomes the country can expect from the decisions to increase gathering and ban alcohol sales is the hastening of the onset of the third wave of Covid-19 pandemic while further collapsing the struggling economy," said SALBA chairperson Sibani Mngadi.

According to Mngadi, the liquor industry's proposal to government via the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac) was, firstly, to reduce the size of gatherings.

The second was to keep most business sectors open to support economic recovery.

"If the reports [of an impending alcohol sales ban] are true, the government will be going directly against Nedlac proposals by yet again shutting down the alcohol sector impacting on its R173 billion contribution to the GDP of the country," said Mngadi.

Mngadi's objections come on the back of similar comments by South African Breweries and the Liquor Traders Formation. SAB on Friday said it would demand a "rational reason" for imposing further restrictions on liquor sales, while the Liquor Traders Formation said a fourth ban would be unjustifiable and would devastate the tavern sector. 

Earlier on Sunday, meanwhile, Democratic Alliance leader John Steenhuisen called for limiting the size of gatherings and reinforcing the use of masks, hygiene and social distancing. 

"The devastation wrought by the past year of lockdown - particularly in the hospitality and tourism sectors - will take years to overcome. With many more businesses still on the verge of collapse, we should be doing all we can to save every single job in these sectors," he said.

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