Alcohol industry calls on government to use science and logic to handle Omicron

Media Statement

  • The number of hospital admissions do not justify the economic destruction of economic restrictions
  • Government should focus on the vaccine drive and deal with the issue of large, unsafe social gatherings
  • Restrictions would magnify the growing problem of robbery of alcohol premises

The South African Liquor Brandowners Association (SALBA) has written to the National Coronavirus Command Council expressing concern over the rise in COVID-19 infections and called on the government to apply a science-based approach and not rush to the knee-jerk response of the past restrictions.

From the available evidence – statistical and from frontline healthcare workers – the fourth wave does not warrant destructive and unscientific restrictions, such as limiting or outright banning alcohol sales. Instead, the government should focus on the vaccine drive and apply a common-sense approach to large, unsafe social gatherings.

SALBA spokesperson Sibani Mngadi said the government had yet to confirm that a task team to investigate implementing a vaccine mandate has been established and what its timelines and terms of reference.

“Under the National Disaster Management Act, the decision on such a mandate is the preserve of the government,” he said. “Instead of venturing into economic restrictions, this is the time for the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) to provide a health-specific advice — how to maximise the impact of vaccines as the main pharmaceutical intervention available. This should be the government’s focus.”

Mngadi added that there was no medical evidence that the current fourth wave had led to increased hospital admissions – especially in ICU wards – and there was no justification for any alcohol sales restrictions as argued in the past four prohibitions.

It has also become increasingly evident that unsafe and large gatherings should be targeted, primarily due to the Omicron variant’s contagiousness as evidenced by the number of break-through infections.

Even so, a significantly smaller proportion of people are being admitted to hospitals. Dr Michelle Groome, head of public health at NICD, says that patients admitted were also staying in hospital for a shorter time than before and ended up significantly less often in intensive care and needed less oxygen. The median stay in hospital is now four days compared to around 18 days in the first wave last year.

Professor Shabir Madhi, Professor of Vaccinology at the University of the Witswatersrand, said in an interview with the BBC today that there had been a significant uncoupling of the case rate in the community, hospitalisations and death rate were much more subdued compared with previous waves at the same point. He also said that there appeared to be a high amount of immunity in the population.

“There is no scientific basis for an implementation of bans or restrictions on the sales of alcohol which was claimed to be intended to increase hospital capacity. The size of gatherings that were increased fourfold without any scientific explanation in the run up to November Local Government Elections is what needs to be managed. Alcohol establishments are making all the effort to comply with the regulations,” said Mngadi.

SALBA CEO Kurt Moore said, “We urge the government to approach things differently this time as the country simply cannot afford another set of economic restrictions. The increase or decline in infections is not linked to the availability of alcohol.”

“What another ban would do is simply magnify the problem of alcohol premises being the target of robbery – warehouses and liquor outlets have become the target of organised gangs since the discussion about another potential restrictions. Any restriction will devastate the alcohol industry and its enormous supply chain and, swell the ranks of the unemployed, leaving many families and communities destitute.”

Moore said it would be irrational, if not hypocritical, for the government to berate the UK and some EU nations for imposing a travel ban on South Africans, for it then to turn around and impose equally restrictive measures on its own citizens.

The liquor industry appealed to the government not to impose restrictions on a sector struggling to recover from the previous measures. “The industry is committed to helping rebuild our economy and focus on the future of a post-pandemic world,” said Moore. “We can do this by ramping up the vaccination programme urgently as is being done in other countries, imposing common-sense limits to unsafe gatherings and following the basic health protocols of wearing face masks in public, social distancing, and basic hygiene.

 

NOTE

Issued by FTI Consulting on behalf of the South African Liquor Brandowners Association (SALBA).

salba@fticonsulting.com