Reactions to the increased alcohol availability during the pandemic have been mixed. Communities believe the government may have been too quick to make alcohol more available. The alcohol industry is celebrating the weakening of alcohol availability rules. Political leaders welcome the opening of the economy but at the same time request caution considering the harm the products and practices of the alcohol industry cause to South Africans.
As Movendi International reported previously, South Africa successfully addressed high alcohol availability during COVID-19 through temporary alcohol sales bans. Three bans were implemented in total: the first one from March to June, 2020; the second one from July to August 2020; and the last one from December, 2020 to February, 2021.
The Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance in South Africa (SAAPA SA) warns that the government may have lifted the successful alcohol availability regulation too soon. If COVID-19 cases rise again as a result, a fourth temporary alcohol sales ban may be inevitable.
Public holidays are known to be times that people [use more alcohol products],” said Maurice Smithers, Director of SAAPA SA, as per IOL.
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. SAAPA SA is concerned that again the government has moved too far too fast.”Maurice Smithers, Director, SAAPA SA
Big Alcohol is happy that the regulations have been weakened which was the objective of their aggressive lobbying against the life-saving temporary sales bans. Meanwhile political leaders welcome the opening of the economy, but caution citizens of the possibility of rising harm.
Alcohol policy solutions in South Africa during COVID-19
Alcohol weakens the immune system and causes many diseases including cancer. Alcohol use is also linked with injuries, violence and crime. Therefore, by reducing alcohol availability during COVID-19 the government of South Africa protected their people from escalated harm during this health crisis. The positive results were observed instantly. All three alcohol sales bans led to massive reductions in alcohol harm specifically in hospital trauma cases, road traffic accidents, violence and crime.
The temporary sales bans in South Africa practically demonstrated the positive gains for public health as well as social and economic development through making alcohol policy the priority it should be.
The last temporary ban was lifted prematurely by the South African government, due to high pressure from the alcohol industry. Despite the gains in public health and safety and saving many lives during the ongoing pandemic, Big Alcohol aggressively opposed the sales bans. Both, Big Beer and Big Wine took legal action against the alcohol sales bans in efforts to protect their profits.