Government should be ready to place partial restrictions on alcohol if infections increase exponentially

The Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance in SA (SAAPA SA) cautiously welcomes the changes announced by the President tonight, but we are concerned that he did not announce specific measures targeting the use of alcohol.

We also don’t 1believe the extension of the curfew and the limiting of gatherings go far enough – we think a curfew starting at 10pm, not 11pm, would have been more effective, as would restricting gatherings further to 50 indoors and 100 outdoors. The President emphasised that gatherings are the major sites of the spread of the virus and we know that harmful drinking increases the risk of spreading and contracting COVID-19 significantly. It is common knowledge that alcohol impairs our decision-making abilities, leading to the flouting of the very COVID-19 protocols that are at the heart of the country’s strategy for defeating the virus.

Our hope is that government will monitor the situation closely and introduce new measures if those announced tonight don’t have the desired impact. This may need to include action to partially restrict access to alcohol to prevent an exponential rise in the infection rate. Like many in the country, we are concerned about the economic impact of a complete ban on alcohol and so believe that we need to impose restrictions that will be effective in containing the virus and avoid having to impose a complete ban again.

The Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance (SAAPASA) has already submitted its recommendations on temporary alcohol restrictions which can prevent a further spike in COVID-19 infections as the country’s daily infection rate climbs, to the President, several ministers, the National Coronavirus Command Council and the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Health.

Although SAAPA SA regularly interacts with government at all levels and engages in public participatory processes related to alcohol legislation regularly we would once again like to implore government to take note of the voice of civil society and researchers in the health sector when making determinations on alcohol restrictions.

SAAPA SA believes government must not wait for the health system to become overburdened before new mitigating measures are introduced. This includes the question of what to do to prevent the use of alcohol contributing to the spread of the virus and to an overload on trauma units in hospitals. Most importantly, how can the country avoid having to endure a fourth full suspension of access to alcohol?

It is common knowledge that the harmful use of alcohol leads to avoidable trauma incidents (resulting in particular from interpersonal violence and traffic incidents) and to a failure by drinkers in gatherings and at on-consumption outlets, to adhere to COVID-19 protocols – wearing masks, maintaining social distancing and washing hands – thereby potentially contributing to the spreading of the virus.

#AlcoholSafeSA #PassLiquorBillsNow

For more information or interview requests, please contact:
Terri-Liza Fortein, Communications, SAAPA SA or 079 9765 489
Maurice Smithers, Director, SAAPA SA 082 373 7705