Alcohol restrictions fight goes to court

Wine industry association Vinpro has launched a legal challenge against South Africa’s ongoing restrictions against alcohol sales, which is scheduled to be heard in the Western Cape High Court from 23 to 26 August 2021.

Vinpro said that despite all of the setbacks the South African wine industry has endured over the past 17 months, it has not backed down from the fight to fully reopen and rebuild the industry.

“Since the start of this pandemic, we have argued that the provinces, not national government, should decide whether or not to impose liquor restrictions and should do so with reference to provincial circumstances, including the need to preserve capacity in trauma units in hospitals in the province,” said Vinpro MD Rico Basson.

“We know provinces are affected differently by the pandemic. Therefore we believe a differentiated approach in handling the crisis is needed to limit the economic impact of a lockdown.”

Under the current adjusted Alert Level 3 lockdown regulations, alcohol sales for off-site consumption are limited to between 10:00 and 18H00, Mondays to Thursdays.

Restaurants are allowed to serve alcohol daily until 20:00, and the evening curfew starts at 22:00.

Health minister Joe Phaahla has stated that the Department of Health would not be recommending that South Africa’s lockdown level be relaxed as the country still finds itself in the throes of the third wave.

Vinpro launched its legal application during the second wave in January this year and said it has now also approached the court to include evidence for how the blanket liquor ban missed its purpose during the third wave.

“While we have challenged government’s decision by way of an urgent interdict application and hearing on 21 July 2021, the matter was subsequently rendered academic because the ban was partially lifted four days later,” Basson said.

“In an interim application, we now ask that this evidence should also be taken into account.”

Basson said that the national government’s respondents have vehemently opposed the application to introduce such further evidence.

This opposition is mainly based on their argument that Vinpro’s application is moot since the ban has been lifted.

“However, we have seen how Government has dealt with the previous liquor bans. A blanket ban is imposed repeatedly, and with a fourth wave likely to hit the country in December, this issue most certainly is not moot.”

The industry supports 80,183 people working at farm and cellar level and 188,913 people working further down the wine value chain, said Basson.

“This industry has built a strong brand reputation as a unique asset for the country. The South African wine industry is more than a drink. It’s a livelihood. And it is our responsibility to make sure we save this industry for future generations.”

One of the reasons put forward by the government for restricting alcohol is to limit the number of trauma cases in hospitals when the number of daily new Covid-19 cases is high.

CSIR researcher Ridhwaan Suliman published an analysis of South Africa’s weekly Covid-19 statistics on Sunday, noting that the number of hospitalisations were under control and decreasing nationally. However, cases numbers and deaths continued to climb.

Suliman said that he believes the larger, higher-burden provinces such as Gauteng and the Western Cape are the biggest contributors to the national decline in hospitalisations.

The National Institute of Communicable Diseases reported on Sunday that there were 13,510 people currently hospitalised with Covid-19 in South Africa — 6,370 in private hospitals and 7,140 in public hospitals.

Now read: Covid-19 vaccinations open for under 35s from Friday — but bad news about lockdown

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Alcohol restrictions fight goes to court