Although the alcohol ban was lifted in early February 2021 and a lawsuit is pending between the South African Breweries (SAB) and the Minister for Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, it is possible that another could be implemented quickly if the circumstances arise require.
AUTHOR: Dr. Rhys Evans at ALCO-Safe
To achieve the desired result in reducing alcohol-related injuries in hospital beds required for Covid-19 patients, it is advisable that the government continue to maintain curfews and allow alcohol to be sold under strictly controlled conditions.
Good reasoning, bad implementation
While it cannot be denied that our healthcare industry is currently under severe strain, the recent alcohol ban has not been as effective as the government had hoped. When South Africa previously had a total liquor sales ban, hospital trauma cases fell by up to 60%, according to government statistics.
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This time around, however, people had enough warning to stock up for both personal consumption and black market sales. It is clear that another ban will only do more damage as the government lost nearly R60 billion in taxes from the spirits sector during the bans, which hit the economy hard and caused massive job losses.
Another general ban will only have a negative impact on the alcohol and hospitality industry and divert urgently needed tax money from the economy into the illegal alcohol trade.
Prohibition is not the way
What can be done to reduce the negative effects of alcohol on our health sector in such difficult circumstances? How can we prevent alcohol-related injuries and deaths from using critical healthcare resources needed in the fight against Covid-19?
Whether or not there is a ban, South Africans continue to consume alcohol bought on the black market. It is therefore imperative to enforce strict regulations for workplace and road safety regarding alcohol consumption, with mandatory alcohol tests and a strict curfew.
This makes practical sense as accidents are more likely to occur when people are out and about or driving on our roads while under the influence.
When curfew is in place, people drink at home, where they are less likely to be involved in accidents that harm others and themselves, and where gender-based violence (GBV) may increase.
In this way, a curfew is likely to be more effective than a blanket ban on the sale of alcohol in keeping the number of alcohol-related trauma and deaths down.
To prevent alcohol-related injuries from occurring in the workplace, it is important to strictly follow the health and safety regulations that apply in high-risk industries such as mining and construction.
This means that companies must have clear guidelines on poisoning, enforced through regular, mandatory alcohol tests before entry into the workplace is allowed.
Knowing that they’ll have an alcohol test before and after each shift can be daunting enough to prevent workers from consuming alcohol if poisoning policy violations are strictly dealt with to give a clear disciplinary message of zero tolerance send.
Outside the workplace, the traffic police must increase the frequency of roadblocks for breathalyzers during curfew times (currently 11:00 pm to 4:00 am) in order to prevent road users from drinking and driving.
This, together with the mandatory intoxication screening immediately after an accident, can be an effective deterrent against alcohol and driving.
Breathalyzers are 100% safe to use
Enforcing the law is nearly impossible without breathalyzers to test for alcohol on road blocks or in the workplace. To address concerns about virus transmission (as the Covid-19 virus spreads through respiratory droplets), it is important to update the breathalyzer testing protocols to meet the need for expanded PPE requirements.
The operator needs additional protective goggles, gloves and a face mask. The requirements for physical distancing can be met with housing devices for the breathalyzer, which can either be mounted outside the workplace on the wall or on a tripod at roadblocks.
The use of disposable paper straws helps protect the test subject by minimizing the spread of virus particles in the air, ensuring safety, while enforcing alcohol consumption laws.
Legislative revision needed
The alcohol problem in South Africa is deeply rooted and needs to be addressed through measures that are more effective than a ban. Much has been written about it in the media how this can be achieved in the long term.
At the moment, the only way to enforce the law is even more stringent by running alcohol tests, maintaining curfews, restricting the sale of alcohol and exposing the police until we are able to give this situation the necessary attention.