[Press Release] COVID-19: Is the move to Level 1 premature?

The Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance SA (SAAPA SA) has noted the decision by Cabinet to move the country from Level 3 to Level 1 and to allow all liquor outlets to operate as normal, subject only to the curfew and the ongoing prohibition on the opening of nightclubs. 

This effectively means that we have returned to the situation we were in from 12 November 2020.

Later in November 2020, SAAPA SA began to warn that there was a real risk of the super-spreading of the virus as a result of the annual Matric Rage and the usual alcohol-fueled celebrations that characterise the festive season every year.

This assessment was in part based on the Tin Roof nightclub incident in Cape Town in October and the spate of large gatherings in Eastern Cape, all of which had caused a spike in infections. 

We proposed that government take steps to prevent a rise in the infection rate, recommending that, at the very least, the operating hours of alcohol outlets should be severely restricted on high-risk days such as the Day of Reconciliation, Christmas Day, the Day of Goodwill, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day and Tweede Nuwe Jaar.

Matric Rage in Ballito Bay took place and saw nearly 1 000 attendees test positive for the virus. 

As a result, all other Matric Rage events were cancelled by the organisers. However, no new measures were put in place by government to prevent the further spreading of the virus, even though there was a spate of new cases in Cape Town and along the Garden Route.

Our proposals for restricting access to alcohol on high-risk days were not adopted.

By late December, the virus was once again out of control and, on 28 December, government was forced to take drastic action, inter alia, suspending access to alcohol for a third time, frustrating the drinking population and dealing a further blow to the alcohol industry.

We are once again entering a period of public holidays – Human Rights Day on 21 March; four days of Easter in the first week of April, Freedom Day on 27 April and Workers Day on 1 May. Public holidays are known to be times that people drink a lot. In addition, there will be a lot of traffic on the road over Easter as people go on holiday and travel to church services.

Furthermore, public health practitioners and governments around the world and here in South Africa are talking about the possibility of a third wave of the pandemic. 

Are we going to see a repeat of what happened in December? Are we going to see a new spike in cases and a possible fourth suspension of access to alcohol in a desperate effort to contain the situation?

SAAPA SA is concerned that, once again, government has moved too far too quickly. While we accept government’s decision as a fait accompli, we urge the NCCC and Cabinet to be proactive and to introduce targeted measures to help reduce the harmful use of alcohol and protect lives over the next two months, including restricting access to alcohol on high-risk days. 

But there is a bigger issue. We have noted the ongoing calls – by the President, Cabinet members, Premiers and other politicians, as well as public health practitioners and civil society organisations – for new and tougher legislation to manage alcohol in South Africa now and post-COVID-19. 

However, we are concerned that there have been no public statements – by anyone in government – advising the people of South Africa of what is being done in this regard and when such measures will be introduced. 

If legislation such as the Liquor Amendment Bill is not passed urgently, the levels of consumption and of the harmful use of alcohol will stay high and continue to pose a threat to the health, safety and wellbeing of our people – drinkers and non-drinkers alike – now and after the pandemic.

#AlcoholSafeSA #PassLiquorBillsNow

For further information
Maurice Smithers, Director, SAAPA SA 
saapa.southafrica@gmail.com 082 3737705
Bongi Ndondo, Chair, SAAPA SA 
Aadielah Maker Diedericks, Strategic Advisor, SAAPA SA 

Website: www.saapa.net 
Twitter: @saapa7