Alcohol ban in South Africa slammed

South African Breweries (SAB), the National Liquor Traders Council, and the Beer Association of South Africa have taken a front-page wrap advertisement in the Sunday Times to slam the government’s decision to implement another alcohol ban.

The ban was implemented as part of the adjusted level 4 lockdown measures amid a surge of new Covid-19 cases due to the outbreak of the more dangerous Delta variant in South Africa.

“Dear National Coronavirus Command Council, give them an explanation that their families will understand”, the advertisement reads, followed by a long list of taverns across South Africa that were forced to close.

“These are just some of the 45,000 taverns across South Africa — compound that number by the families and communities that rely on them and begin to see the gravity of the impact of the latest alcohol ban,” the ad stated.

“Some of the taverns listed above barely survived the three previous bans. Others weren’t as fortunate.”

The industry representatives said these taverners could no longer support themselves because the NCCC “closed the tap on their income”.

“Now, there will be more hands out and more mouths to feed. What will these people tell their families, their workers, their communities? What will happen to the 1 million jobs impacted by this?”

The organisations stated that they were never against safer and more responsible alcohol sales, and had even proposed and implemented their own.

However, they accused the government of not consulting with them to collaborate on solutions.

“There are no economic support measures, no understanding of when these new restrictions will end, and no vaccine,” the ad stated.

It concluded with a call on the government to join the industry in establishing reasonable initiatives that can “help save lives and livelihoods”.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said that the alcohol ban is necessary to reduce the number of trauma cases in hospitals to ensure there are enough beds for Covid-19 patients.

He explained that measures implemented during lockdown alert level 3 did not appear to make a difference to trauma cases and that stricter rules were needed.

During alert level 3, liquor stores were only allowed to sell alcohol between 10:00 and 18:00 from Monday to Thursday, while restaurants and taverns were allowed to sell alcohol for on-site consumption.

City Press reported that 91% of private and public hospital beds in Gauteng are currently full while the coronavirus cases in the province continue to rise.

The National Institute for Communicable Diseases reported yesterday that South Africa’s daily new Covid-19 cases surged to a record 26,485 on Friday, with 16,091 of these cases recorded in Gauteng.

“I know that we have grown impatient with the constraints that have been placed on our lives,” Ramaphosa said when he announced the adjusted alert level 3 lockdown on 15 June.

“I fully understand that you are all concerned about constraints that restrict your freedom to move around or to travel; your freedom to gather, to socialise, to worship; and, in some instances, your freedom to even earn a living,” he said.

“Yet we also know that these restrictions have been effective in containing the spread of the virus.”

Support for South Africa’s alcohol ban to reduce trauma cases in hospitals is contained in a study by the Australasian Professional Society on Alcohol and other Drugs, funded by the South African Medical Research Council.

It compared data on trauma admissions, operations, and stab wound admissions from the Worcester Regional Hospital between 2019 and 2020.

The study authors found that each time a total ban was implemented, there was a big drop in trauma volume, which waned as partial alcohol sales were allowed to resume.

However, a study funded by drinks manufacturer Distell has claimed that it was the stricter curfew and restrictions on people’s movements, not alcohol bans, which were the bigger reasons for the drop in trauma cases.

The study — which was carried out by independent data expert Ian McGorian and Professor Mike Murray of the University of KwaZulu-Natal — said the argument that the alcohol ban was solely responsible for fewer trauma admissions was a weak one.

South Africa’s trauma cases plummeted by around 60% during strict lockdown periods, which included measures such as an alcohol ban, curfews, and tough limits on gatherings and the movement of people.

Using linear regression modelling, the researchers showed that the curfew had the strongest effect on reduced trauma admissions.

“Whichever way we tested it, once you put a curfew in place, you did not get a greater effect by banning alcohol,” McGorian stated.

He added that the findings were further substantiated by the fact that trauma cases in other countries had also dropped significantly during lockdown periods in countries with no alcohol bans.

For example, the UK saw a 57% drop in trauma admissions, trauma cases in the US fell by 54%, Italy by 57%, Ireland by 62%, and Germany by 38%.

“The counterfactual cannot be ignored,” said McGorian. “This effect has been worldwide.”

Now read: New record number of daily Covid-19 cases – with over 16,000 in Gauteng

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Alcohol ban in South Africa slammed