South Africa initially imposed an alcohol ban in response to the coronavirus pandemic on March 27, then lifted it on June 1. However, it was then reimposed without notice on July 12.
Over the weekend the government announced the end of the ban with effect from midnight today (Monday August 17). It comes as the country observes a 'steadily declining number of COVID-19 infections' and moves to alert level 2.
There remain certain restrictions on alcohol sales: alcohol will be permitted for on-site consumption in licensed establishments up to 10pm only; while liquor outlets will be allowed to sell alcohol for off-site consumption from Monday to Thursday during the hours of 9am-5pm only.
‘We understand the government was caught between a rock and a hard place’
When the alcohol ban was reinstated last month, the government said this was ‘reflective of an increased number of trauma cases seen in hospitals’ – which affects the capacity to deal with COVID-19 cases.
The alcohol industry, however, had questioned the effectiveness of a ban on the fight against coronavirus; while highlighting a substantial economic impact. According to a group of industry representatives, the South African economy had already lost an estimated R13bn in direct capital investments with South African Breweries, Heineken and Consol Glass all halting capital expansion projects last week.
Meanwhile, spiritsEurope, the body representing Europe’s spirits sector, said the ban was also being keenly felt by the European industry: South Africa is the prime export destination for European spirits in Africa, with exports amounting to €255m in 2019.
The lifting of the ban today means that the trading and distribution of alcohol is now again permitted in South Africa.
In response, the new focus of the alcohol industry is to partner with the government to save businesses and jobs in the sector while ensuring safety, responsible trading, and the sensible consumption of alcohol in a joint effort to fight against the pandemic and to begin to rebuild the economy.
Responding to the decision, the South African Liquor Brandowners Association (SALBA) says it 'entirely supports’ the government’s request to put in place practices to ensure the industry can operate safely during the pandemic.
“The liquor industry confirmed it is willing to ensure enhanced resources, including funds, people and time, are available to assist the Government in dealing with the burden on the public healthcare system,” said Kurt Moore, CEO of SALBA.
“It will also help ease the pressure on healthcare facilities and to assist with the distribution of personal protective equipment (PPE), leveraging our extensive distribution and retail networks nationwide in support of efforts to combat the spread of COVID-19.
“We also reiterate our commitment to work with the Government to implement health and safety protocols addressing COVID-19 transmission risks across the value chain and ensure that the industry reopens safely and efficiently.”
The industry is now focused on working across the value chain to begin to rebuild the sector and contribute to the revival of the country’s economy.
Patricia Pillay, CEO of the Beer Association of South Africa (BASA), said: “We absolutely understand the government was caught between a rock and a hard place: getting the balance between saving lives and protecting livelihoods.
"We will work with all stakeholders to ensure the sector gets back on its feet, that social awareness programmes around harm reduction are ramped up, and we that start the process of rebuilding the country’s economy.”
Click and collect apps
Lucky Ntimane, convener of the National Liquor Traders Council, said the organisation’s 34,000 taverners are ready to get back to business with enhanced safety measures.
“We will continue to roll out innovations such as the “click-and-collect” apps to help reduce queues, improve social distancing, and make it safer for consumers to order and collect their purchases,” said Ntimane.
Rico Basson, CEO of VinPro (an organisation representing 3,500 South African wine producers, cellars and industry stakeholders) said the industry will ramp up social awareness programmes and behavioural change interventions. These efforts include responsible messaging and a mass communication campaign to help communities fight the spread of COVID-19.
“We reiterate our commitment to partner with the Government to create a social compact that drives behavioural change regarding the use and consumption of alcohol,” he said.
“We call for the establishment of a national multi-stakeholder forum with Government and civil society to focus on identifying and prioritising problem areas—based on research and credible current data—and jointly designing interventions targeting these key areas with enhanced current programmes and new measurable and evidence-based initiatives.”
Under alert level 2, South Africa's eased restrictions now also allow sale of tobacco and interprovincial travel: with accommodation, hospitality venues and tours once again permitted to operate, albeit with approved protocols to ensure social distancing.