Pretoria – The Southern Africa Alcohol Policy Alliance has warned against another spike of Covid-19 infections and trauma cases as a result of the lifting of the on-site alcohol consumption ban.
Its director, Maurice Smithers, predicted the repeat of more coronavirus transmissions, saying that the same situation was experienced in June last year when the government lifted the alcohol sales ban during the first wave.
“We suspect that is going to happen again and it is more likely going to happen as a result of on-site consumption. It is when people are sitting in a bar or in a pub that they start fighting each other and end up going to the public hospitals,” he said.
Smithers, however, said the organisation was not against the alcohol ban, but called for a cautious approach on the part of the government for allowing liquor consumption, especially for on-site outlets.
The organisation expressed concern following the announcement made during a “family meeting” hosted by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Monday evening.
“While we celebrate with the rest of the country the reduction over the past weeks in the Covid-19 infection and death rates, and the arrival of 1 million vaccine doses from India, we are worried that the government has moved too far too fast with the easing of alcohol restrictions,” Smithers said.
He said the organisation was supportive of the decision to permit off-consumption sales from Mondays to Thursdays, which allowed people to buy alcohol and drink at home.
“This concession, especially if it had included the right of on-site 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.
Under the current level 3 lockdown, the government decided to allow on-site liquor consumption from Monday to Sunday between 10am and 10pm.
Smithers said: “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.”
He said it was a known fact that most alcohol-related trauma cases were a consequence of either drinking and driving or of interpersonal violence occurring at gatherings in on-site consumption outlets and at other social gatherings.
“We believe it would have been more prudent to make alcohol available again gradually, starting with limited availability of alcohol from off-site consumption outlets. Then, depending on the success or otherwise of efforts to control the pandemic, as well as the impact of allowing the off-site consumption sale of alcohol, further restrictions could have been lifted judiciously,” he said.