Concerns over move to level 1 and relaxed alcohol regulations just before holidays
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Johannesburg - The Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance SA (SaapaSA) said it was concerned government was moving “too far too quickly” by taking the country to lockdown level 1.
The organisation said it was worried South Africa was entering a period of public holidays: Human Rights Day on March 21, four days of Easter in the first week of April, Freedom Day on April 27 and Workers’ Day on 1 May.
With regulations around alcohol sales also relaxed, Saapa SA said this might not bode well for the country.
“Public holidays are known to be times that people drink a lot. In addition, there will be a lot of traffic on the road over Easter as people go on holiday and travel to church services.
“Furthermore, 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.
“Are we going to see a repeat of what happened in December? Are we going to see a new spike in cases and a possible fourth suspension of access to alcohol in a desperate effort to contain the situation?
“Saapa SA is concerned that, once again, government has moved too far too quickly. While we accept government’s decision as a fait accompli, we urge the NCCC (National Coronavirus Command Council) and cabinet to be proactive and to introduce targeted measures to help reduce the harmful use of alcohol and protect lives over the next two months, including restricting access to alcohol on high-risk days.”
On Sunday, President Cyril Ramaphosa moved the country to lockdown level 1, saying the decision was driven by a drop in Covid-19 infections of the past two weeks.
Gatherings will now be permitted, subject to limitations on size, adherence to social distancing and other health protocols. Alcohol restrictions have been relaxed further. Nightclubs, however, remain closed.
Saapa SA said the country would now be in the situation it was in from November 12.
The organisation said it warned in November there was a real risk of the super-spreading of the virus as a result of the annual Matric Rage and the usual alcohol-fuelled celebrations that characterised the festive season every year.
“This assessment was in part based on the Tin Roof nightclub incident in Cape Town in October and the spate of large gatherings in Eastern Cape, all of which had caused a spike in infections.
“Matric Rage in Ballito Bay took place and saw nearly 1 000 attendees test positive for the virus.
“As a result, all other Matric Rage events were cancelled by the organisers. However, no new measures were put in place by government to prevent the further spreading of the virus, even though there was a spate of new cases in Cape Town and along the Garden Route.
“Our proposals for restricting access to alcohol on high-risk days were not adopted.
“By late December, the virus was once again out of control and, on 28 December, government was forced to take drastic action, inter alia, suspending access to alcohol for a third time, frustrating the drinking population and dealing a further blow to the alcohol industry.”
Saapa SA said if legislation such as the Liquor Amendment Bill was not passed urgently, the levels of consumption and of the harmful use of alcohol “will stay high and continue to pose a threat to the health, safety and wellbeing of our people – drinkers and non-drinkers alike – now and after the pandemic”.