With President Ramaphosa scheduled to address the nation this evening on new measures to deal with the Covid-19 third wave of infections, the Beer Association of South Africa (BASA) urges government to focus on interventions that protect those most at risk of succumbing to Covid-19, while protecting desperately needed jobs and livelihoods.

Critically, our country does not have the option of another hard lockdown including another alcohol ban. While South Africa’s slow start to its Covid-19 vaccine roll-out is regrettable, imposing further restrictions that will lead to further job losses and bankruptcies is not the answer. The only way out of this terrible situation is the implementation of sensible and balanced restrictions and a full-scale vaccination programme. Business cannot be expected to pay the cost for government’s failings in this regard.

In our discussions with government, it has been acknowledged that the main driver of infections is large gatherings and the failure to observe mask wearing and social distancing protocols. The beer industry therefore supports regulations focused on restricting large gatherings and requiring businesses and citizens to observe strict Covid-19 protocols.

However, an alcohol ban will not have this desired effect. Instead, it will further increase the illegal alcohol trade, which already comprises 22% of total alcohol consumption and resulted in R11.3 billion being lost to the fiscus in 2020. There is also little observance of Covid-19 protocols in illegal outlets and increased levels of interpersonal violence and crime.

Furthermore, the three previous alcohol bans resulted in over 7 400 jobs lost in the beer industry, R14.2 billion in lost sales revenue and more than a R7.8 billion loss in taxes and excise duties. Another ban will offer a severe blow to thousands of small businesses still trying to get back on their feet from the previous bans, resulting in even more job losses, business closures and loss in revenue for the national fiscus. This is true for all producers, but most especially for small brewers who are currently barely surviving.

BASA, along with the broader alcohol industry remains committed to working with government to mitigate the impact of a third wave of infections. We have introduced a range of interventions including:
* The halting of all sponsored events that would result in large gatherings;
* Encouraging all liquor establishments and retailers to implement safety protocols at their businesses in order to remain strictly compliant with Covid-19 regulations, which included BASA members providing training and guidelines to liquor outlets on social distancing and how to trade responsibly and safely;
* Developing click-and-collect platforms where customers can place orders via SMS and then pick up their alcohol purchases at a designated time for consumption at home, in order to prevent overcrowding at outlets;
* Promoting the toll-free Consumer Goods Council hotline (0800 014 856) which citizens can call to report incidents of criminality linked to the sale and consumption of alcohol and to report any breaches of Covid-19 regulations at establishments;
* Along with the broader alcohol industry, BASA has funded the placement of 500 patrollers and ex-reservists in 50 police stations across the country to support SAPS with visible enforcement on the ground this year. This programme was initially implemented in December with the placement of 1000 patrollers via the Community Policing Forum for the festive season;
* Adopting a zero tolerance towards establishments found breaking the law, with BASA members cutting off the supply of alcohol to establishments whose licences have been revoked.
* BASA members have also provided funding to government to assist the national health system to respond to an increase in Covid-19 hospital admissions over the past year.

However, everyone needs to play their part when it comes to employing non-pharmaceutical measures while we await the mass roll-out of vaccines. BASA therefore calls on all South Africans to continue social distancing, avoid gathering in large groups, wear their masks in public and drink alcohol responsibly.

We urge National Government to implement interventions that save lives without sacrificing livelihoods as we fight the third wave over the coming weeks.

Editor@tech-talk.co.za

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