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SA Alcohol Policy Alliance concerned about blanket unbanning of alcohol sales

A bartender, wearing a mask to fight the spread of the coronavirus, serves a beer to a customer in a pub in Brussels in October last year. | AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

A bartender, wearing a mask to fight the spread of the coronavirus, serves a beer to a customer in a pub in Brussels in October last year. | AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Published Feb 2, 2021

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Johannesburg - The SA Alcohol Policy Alliance (Saapa) has expressed concern about President Cyril Ramaphosa’s announcement that the ban on alcohol sales would be lifted. The approach should have been gradual, it says

On Monday, Ramaphosa lifted the ban on alcohol sales for on-site and off-site consumption six weeks after it was put in place.

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The ban was put in place as South Africa entered the second wave of the coronavirus in the middle of December. The second wave came as the new Covid-19 501.V2 variant was confirmed in the country.

Saapa director Maurice Smithers said the alliance was worried that the government had moved too fast in easing alcohol restrictions.

“Saapa is supportive of the decision to permit off-consumption sales from Mondays to Thursdays, allowing people to buy alcohol and drink at home. This concession, especially if it had included the right of on-consumption outlets to sell ‘take-aways’, would have provided economic relief to the embattled alcohol sector while limiting the negative impact on the fight against Covid-19 of making alcohol available again.

“The rise in trauma cases would have been limited and, as importantly, the risk of alcohol use contributing to the spread of the virus would have been kept to a minimum,” he said.

“Government has also decided to allow on-consumption outlets to operate Monday to Sunday from 10am to 10pm. This dramatically increases the risk of a rise in trauma cases, thereby once again putting unnecessary pressure on hospitals, and in the further spreading of the virus.

“It’s a known fact that most alcohol-related trauma cases are a consequence either of drinking and driving or of interpersonal violence occurring at gatherings in on-consumption outlets and at other social gatherings.”

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Smithers said drinking at on-consumption outlets led people to forget about basic non-pharmaceutical interventions such as mask wearing, hand washing and maintaining physical distance.

“It would have been more prudent to make alcohol available again gradually, starting with limited availability of alcohol from off-consumption outlets. Then, depending on the success or otherwise of efforts to control the pandemic, as well as the impact of allowing the off-consumption sale of alcohol, further restrictions could have been lifted judiciously.

“After all, it should be remembered that, after the first ban was lifted on 1 June 2020, there was an immediate spike in alcohol-related trauma cases, even though only off-consumption sales were allowed. Six weeks later, the government found itself forced to reimpose the ban.

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“That ban was lifted in September and virtually all restrictions on alcohol were removed by the end of November. Alcohol-fuelled super-spreader events caused a rise in the number of cases and once again put pressure on hospitals, necessitating a further ban from the end of December. Are we going to see this happen again later in the year when the anticipated ‘third wave’ strikes?

“We believe a more cautious approach would limit the need for future bans, allowing the alcohol sector to recover while reducing the chances of the harmful use of alcohol sabotaging the country’s fight against the virus,” said Smithers.

IOL

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