Litigation: Several bids to overturn alcohol sales ban

The government is facing myriad objections to the level four lockdown ban on liquor sales, notes Legalbrief. First to move was Vinpro, the body representing the wine industry, which has filed an urgent interdict to lift the ban on the sale of alcohol in the Western Cape and has asked the court to allow for the provincial government to make its own rules on liquor sales. The body representing grape growers and alcohol producers says many of the wine farmers are medium-sized businesses struggling to survive following 19 weeks of alcohol bans since March 2020.

The ban has been enforced to reduce the number of trauma patients in hospitals struggling to cope during the Covid-19 third wave. Vinpro argues that the national government should not be making decisions on alcohol sales during the State of Disaster, but the authority should rest with the provincial Western Cape Government as they manage the issuing of liquor sale licenses, and hospitals and health provision. Vinpro is not arguing against restrictions when hospitals and trauma units are under pressure. But it says that the nationwide liquor bans are ‘over-broad, unnecessary, unjustified and, indeed, counter-productive’, especially as Covid-19 infection rates often differ among provinces. Allowing provincial authorities to decide on bans, would mean a more flexible and nimble approach that would consider how provincial Covid-19 case numbers, hospital capacity, and the effect of a ban on the alcohol, restaurant, tourism, and agricultural sectors.

SA Breweries (SAB) is also seeking to have the ban overturned, saying it has no alternative but to defend its rights and protect its business, notes a BusinessLIVE report. The local unit of AB InBev, the world’s largest brewer, said the ban introduced by the government to reduce demand for hospital beds by trauma patients during the Covid-19 third wave, was taken without consulting the liquor industry. Three previous bans, the first of which was imposed in March 2020, have lasted a combined 19 weeks, cost the industry as much as R38bn in lost sales, and resulted in it paying R27bn less tax. ‘The use of blanket bans is unsustainable and continues to exacerbate job losses and economic decline across the beer and alcohol value chain,’ SAB said in a statement.

SAB said the liquor industry had made submissions to the National Coronavirus Command Council on managing the third wave without alcohol bans. These suggestions included an earlier curfew and increased law enforcement. ‘SAB fully understands the seriousness of this third wave and agrees that lawful and reasonable measures are needed to curb the spread of the pandemic to save both lives and livelihoods,’ it said. But it added that ‘there is no scientific link that the consumption of alcohol raises the risk of contracting Covid-19 especially if alcohol is consumed safely and responsibly in the comfort of one’s home’.

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