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Lockdown prohibition

SA lockdown prohibition: alcohol update

Taverns and shebeens have dropped threatened court action for now. Here is an extract from a brilliant article in Daily Maverick, on “Prohibition lockdown goes rogue”…. [The rank collective stupidity of the ANC and some of its advisors beggars belief as SA heads to economic suicide. Ed]

Gauteng’s taverns and shebeens have stepped back from legal action after fevered negotiations with the presidency at the weekend about the continued prohibition on alcohol sales.

In legal papers, the Gauteng Liquor Forum (the country’s largest organisation of tavern and shebeen owners), said: “Our clients are concerned that the Regulations are unconstitutional as a whole and there is no authority under the law and the Constitution to issue the regulations.” The forum supported venue bans on drinking, but wanted the right to sell.

The forum took offence at the presidency’s suggestion that they apply for assistance from the Tourism Relief Fund and said they are generally excluded from state benefits because they are largely unregistered (all government relief is currently mired in bureaucracy of permits, registration and compliance certificates), and had been stigmatised since inception.

In a throw-down to the presidency in a letter sent on Saturday 18 April 2020, the forum says the booze sale prohibition has race and class biases.

“The rest of your letter deals with irrelevant issues of violent crime, motor vehicle accidents and the reduction of ‘intoxicated persons’ among the ‘most vulnerable in society’ which is coded language for black people living in the townships where our clients operate.

“What is not explained is why the consumption of liquor in the white and affluent areas where the rich classes reside and drink liquor from their well-stocked bars and cellars, will not increase violence, including domestic violence. Such blatant racial discrimination has no place in a constitutional state.”

Because there are only 11 days left in the existing lockdown, court action is being placed in abeyance, but they have written to the presidency seeking details on whether or not the lockdown is likely to be extended and whether or not the booze ban is negotiable. 

“What prohibition?”

This is the question asked by Professor Charles Parry, director of the Medical Research Council’s Alcohol, Tobacco and Other Drug Research Unit, part of the team which informed President Cyril Ramaphosa’s decision to hang tough on the alcohol ban.

Parry is genuinely perplexed at the idea that the temporary public health booze ban is being called prohibition politics. For one thing, the American prohibition was 13 years long, he points out and that it was associated with the puritanical and temperance movements.  

“I hate people telling me what to do,” says Parry, but he says that in a public health emergency, the trade-off limits personal freedom for a greater good.  “Our drinking context is quite different,” he says when asked why other countries had not put in place such stringent prohibition. He denies the suggestion that the government is trying to make alcohol reduction policy, using the Covid-19 epidemic as a cover.

“You have to understand South Africa’s unique drinking culture,” he says, pointing to detailed research which has shown that South Africans share bottles, and use alcohol and socialising interchangeably. It simply would not work with the isolation and physical distancing that a lockdown requires.

The decision to continue the ban was scientific, says Parry. “You would be adding a fourth national queue to those for food, medicines and social grants.” Groups or lines of people spread the virus, he says, explaining how the decision was made. And the evidence presented another vital reason for continuing the lockdown. See this article.

Parry and his colleagues have calculated that the booze ban has emptied out the trauma units at 400 public hospitals and other facilities that will be needed as the Covid-19 storm starts. South Africa is regarded as being in the calm before the storm. The numbers of confirmed cases are now at 3,034 sick with about 1,400 recoveries and 52 deaths – low by international standards, but high on average public health infectious disease standards. (Stats as at 18 April 2020).

In our violent country, 1.8 million people a year are admitted into trauma units with one in two there for inter-personal injury, followed by accidents and then a general category that includes self-harm and other workplace injuries – this translates into 34,615 trauma admissions per week, says Parry. In about four in 10 cases, alcohol is a factor in the trauma.

Now the lockdown has brought an unusual calm to the trauma units, enabling hospitals to do the essential work of preparing themselves so that the scenes of mayhem and heartbreak at Italian, Spanish and New York hospitals does not happen here when Covid-19 makes proper landfall.

In their early number-crunching, Parry and his colleagues have found that trauma admissions are down by 68% at Groote Schuur and 69% at Chris Hani Baragwanath and at similar levels in facilities across South Africa.  The highest numbers of Covid-19 cases are in Johannesburg and Cape Town, so the two hospitals are a useful indicator of why the booze ban may be working in the interests of public health.

It’s a question of whether the ends of better public health services justify the means of prohibition and also a question of how long it lasts….. Read the full article here