Calls for new alcohol restrictions as SA's Covid-19 cases soar

28 December 2020 - 11:23
By orrin singh AND Orrin Singh
A Durban metro cop empties a bottle of beer during a festive season operation to curb drinking in public within the city.
Image: Supplied A Durban metro cop empties a bottle of beer during a festive season operation to curb drinking in public within the city.

The Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance in SA (Saapa SA) is calling for new restrictions on access to alcohol following a rapid spike in reported Covid-19 cases and deaths across the country.

National health minister Zweli Mkhize said SA had breached one million positive cases on Sunday.

The Sunday Times reported President Cyril Ramaphosa would recall ministers and officials to discuss a response to the second wave of infections which had left private and public hospitals running out of intensive care beds and oxygen in four provinces.

On Sunday, Saapa SA made two recommendations, calling on the government to:

  • maintain current restrictions on off-consumption liquor sales and suspend all on-premises sales and consumption of alcohol in bars, restaurants and taverns, adding that all alcohol advertising and promotions should be banned for the duration of the national state of disaster; 
  • further reduce indoor gatherings to 50 people and maintain less than 50% capacity in indoor venues, suggesting the government reduce social gatherings indoors and outdoors to 10 people or less from a maximum of two households, except for events such as funerals; and
  • the curfew should be maintained, as should the ban on events such as post-funeral “after tears”.

Saapa SA's recommendations to government were made following a call by the National Liquor Traders’ Council (NLTC) for the government to work with the alcohol industry to “find solutions of mutual benefit on how to fight the Covid-19 pandemic in a manner that can safeguard the one million livelihoods dependent on the alcohol industry”.

Saapa SA said the alcohol industry is clearly worried about a possible new ban on alcohol sales and its economic impact on an already embattled sector.

“While Saapa SA is sympathetic to the plight of small operators in particular and their staff and families, we are concerned ‘self-regulation’ by the industry is inevitably subordinated to their economic interests and will therefore always be inadequate, especially in the midst of a pandemic.

“The alcohol industry has not delivered on its pledge to ensure alcohol outlets observe Covid-19 protocols and thereby contribute to the containment of the coronavirus.”

Experts have warned during the course of the pandemic that alcohol-related trauma cases, including stabbings and car crashes, place an additional burden on health workers and facilities when Covid-19 admissions increase in hospitals.

Trauma cases in Eastern Cape hospitals escalated sharply between Christmas Eve and the Day of Goodwill, DispatchLIVE reported.

At Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital, for example, there were 18 cases on December 24. On Christmas Day there were 40 cases in the hospital, 30 of which were stabbings.

The organisation called on cabinet to urgently implement the 2016 Liquor Policy.

“A Liquor Amendment Bill based on that policy was approved by cabinet in 2016 and subjected to an extensive public participation process. Since 2017, the bill has stalled,” it said.

The bill would make provision for:

  • increasing the legal drinking age to 21 years to stop consumption by those most prone to binge drinking;
  • holding distributors, retailers and traders liable for alcohol-related harm perpetrated by their customers; and
  • limiting alcohol advertising, including a complete ban on alcohol ads on social media.

“The adoption of the bill will mean better 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.”