File picture: African News Agency (ANA)
File picture: African News Agency (ANA)

Push for more restrictions on alcohol access as Covid-19 third wave looms

By IOL Reporter Time of article published May 18, 2021

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Cape Town – The SA Alcohol Policy Alliance has urged the government to respond to the Covid-19 third wave threat by strengthening the current restrictions on alcohol access.

This as the number of positive Covid-19 cases in the country has increased, with the Free State, Gauteng and Eastern Cape now effectively experiencing a third wave.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has encouraged provinces to intensify their response programmes to limit the increase in infections.

“We can't just sit back and say, ‘Okay, it's just gonna happen’,” he said. “Our individual and collective behaviour does influence the trajectory of these curves,” Council for Scientific and Industrial Research senior researcher Ridhwaan Suliman said.

The alliance said the government has some tough decisions to make to curb a resurgence in infections. It believes it is best to act sooner rather than later and that the government should not wait until the health system becomes overburdened before restrictions are introduced.

“Alcohol consumption should not aggravate the predicted impact of the third wave,” said SA Alcohol Policy Alliance director Maurice Smithers in a statement.

“We have seen the additional burden on the healthcare system caused by trauma cases related to harmful drinking, through car crashes, incidents of interpersonal violence and gender-based violence.

’’Also, when people consume alcohol, their ability to adhere to Covid-19 protocols – wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and washing hands – can be diminished and contribute to the spreading of the virus.

’’Doing so will limit pressure on hospitals and keep the infection rate down. It will save lives and avoid having to resort to harsher emergency measures such as imposing a complete ban on alcohol and causing avoidable economic hardship.’’

The alliance has also noted the alcohol industry’s concerns about a possible new ban in response to the anticipated third wave. The alliance maintains that, if the industry wants to avoid future bans, it should stop opposing the adoption by the government of new legislation, eg the Liquor Amendment Bill.

’’An amended Liquor Act would mean better long-term regulation of the distribution, trading and marketing of alcohol, a change for the better in social drinking norms, and a reduction in the economic and social burden of alcohol-attributable harm on the country.’’

The SA Alcohol Policy Alliance has called for the following measures to be introduced to stem a third wave of Covid-19 infections:

Road safety

Temporarily imposing zero breath and blood concentration levels for drivers during the State of Disaster – such a measure is already contained in the Road Traffic Amendment Bill which is currently before Parliament and has wide-spread support, but won’t be enacted before the end of 2021.

Advertising

  • Banning all special offers for reduced price alcoholic beverages at least until the end of the State of Disaster.
  • Banning all alcohol advertising except at the point of sale to reduce the pressure on people to drink.

Public Events and off-consumption sales

  • Prohibiting major alcohol-fuelled party events, including street bashes.
  • Reducing the gathering numbers to 50 indoors and 100 outdoors.
  • Extending the curfew from midnight to 10pm, seven days a week.
  • Announcing that all on-consumption liquor outlets should be closed from 6pm on public holidays and one day prior to public holidays to discourage the excessive use of alcohol in overcrowded venues and to limit the potential for ‘super-spreader’ events.
  • Disallowing alcohol consumption in public places, particularly in parks, on beaches, at swimming pools, etc.
  • Suspending for a minimum three months, or revoking, the licences of outlets that break alcohol and/or Covid-19 regulations.
  • Reducing off-consumption operating hours.

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