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Calls grow for suspension of alcohol sales at bars, restaurants

A bartender, wearing a face mask to fight against the spread of the coronavirus. File picture: Francisco Seco/AP

Durban – The Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance in South Africa has called for President Cyril Ramaphosa to relook at the government’s stance on alcohol sales as the second wave and a new variant of Covid-19 continue to spread rapidly around the country.

As of Sunday night, more than one million people have been infected with the virus in the country since March, with just under 27 000 people losing their lives and just over 840 000 people recovering from the virus.

The majority of Covid-related deaths have been from the Eastern Cape, Western Cape, Gauteng and KwaZulu-Natal.

The National Coronavirus Command Council reportedy met on Sunday and extensive consultations with various provinces and stakeholders are expected to take place before Ramaphosa addresses the nation.

SAAPA SA director Maurice Smithers said the alcohol industry was concerned about a ban on the sale of alcohol and the resultant economic impact on the industry.

He said while they were sympathetic to their plight, the alcohol industry had not delivered on its promise that they would ensure alcohol outlets adhered to Covid-19 protocols.

SAAPA SA has also called on government to ban alcohol advertising during the State of Disaster.

“Furthermore, we believe their approach, like their long-standing and equally unsuccessful ‘drink responsibly’ campaign, is designed more to protect their profits and to sound good than to address the fundamental drivers of the harmful use of alcohol – that it is too affordable, too easily available and aggressively marketed.

“SAAPA SA, however, agrees with the NLTC that a full ban is not the best response to the crisis, given the likely unintended consequences. Instead, we support the call by Professor Charles Parry and Dr Nandi Siegfried for new measures to reduce the excessive use of alcohol and its contribution to the second wave of Covid-19,” said Smithers.

SAAPA SA wants the government to suspend all on-site consumption of alcohol at bars, restaurants and taverns, as well as prohibiting alcohol promotions and discounts.

“Allowing the industry to advertise directly undermines efforts by government and health workers to get people to decrease their consumption”.

They have also called on gatherings to be limited to 50 people and that the curfew should be maintained.

“We are aware that the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) is meeting to discuss how to respond to the current situation and we urge them to give serious consideration to acting on these proposals.

“Perhaps more importantly, government must now begin to take steps to permanently reduce alcohol-related harm in South Africa. The critical thing about the strain on hospital trauma units is not only that beds are taken away from Covid-19 cases by people needing treatment as a result of alcohol-related car crashes, assaults and gender-based violence.

“They are also a permanent and costly burden on our health system, especially over weekends when the ‘unmistakable combined smell of blood and alcohol’ (an observation by Associate Professor Sithombo Maqungo of Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town) pervades the waiting rooms, corridors and emergency wards of our hospitals.

“It is simply intolerable for government and society to ignore this unnecessary waste of public resources and the terrible, ongoing toll of alcohol-related harm on the lives of people in communities across the country”.

IOL