The wine shelf in a grocery store.
(Photo by: Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
  • The move to Alert Level 2 from Monday means bottle stores may now operate for one extra day a week, on Fridays.
  • But that is not what government's scientific advisors had recommended, a newly released memo shows.
  • Keeping in place the ban on alcohol sales for offsite consumption on Saturdays "is difficult to justify", the Ministerial Advisory Committee said.
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On Monday, 13 September, Adjusted Alert Level 2 coronavirus restrictions came into force in South Africa. One effect is that bottle stores may now sell alcoholic drinks for consumption somewhere else for one more day a week, on Fridays.

But that is not what scientists had had in mind, a newly released memo shows.

The week before, on 6 September, the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on Covid-19 had told health minister Joe Phaahla that SA should return to the normal hours of alcohol trade, based on the available evidence.

The committee recommended "that consideration be given to easing the level of restrictions" in ways that could include "relaxing the current restrictions on the sale of alcoholic beverages for off-site consumption, by returning to the usual hours of sale in terms of the Liquor Act (i.e. allowing sale from Mondays to Saturdays)."

In doing so, the MAC appears to have gone beyond the strict confines of the questions on which it had been asked for advice, which included whether off-site-consumption alcohol sales should be extended to include Fridays.

Just adding Friday sales wouldn't make a lot of sense, the group said.

"[A]lthough the link between alcohol use and trauma caseload is well-established, increasing the number of days on which alcoholic beverage sales for off-site consumption by only one day is difficult to justify, and so a return to normal selling hours is preferable," the MAC said in its memo.

Phaahla last asked the MAC for input in the middle of last month. At the time it recommended that Level 3 restrictions – including those on alcohol sales – be maintained for another two weeks, a period that ran until the end of August.

By early September, the new advisory shows, the scientists were a lot more sanguine about the speed of SARS-CoV-2 transmission in South Africa.

"[A]lthough easing of restrictions now may result in a slower decline in incidence than otherwise might have occurred, it is thought very unlikely that easing restrictions would result in R increasing above 1 nationally or in many provinces," the MAC said, referring to a key measure of the rate of infection, which will continue to grow at an R value above one.

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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