Lifting South Africa’s alcohol ban: 6 changes government should introduce, according to medical experts

Medical experts have called on the government to review the country’s ban on the sale of alcohol due to the potential economic impact of the prohibition.

Professor Charles Parry of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) told 702 that the government could lift the ban gradually to ensure lives are balanced with livelihoods.

He proposed that further short-term conditions be introduced to ease the burden on the country’s hospitals. These conditions are outlined in more detail below.

  • Reducing sales days  – Government could reduce the number of days that alcohol is sold from four days to three days. Under the previous level 3 lockdown regulations, alcohol was allowed to be sold in Monday – Thursday. Parry said further limits would help in reducing availability, but could also introduce further pressures such as overcrowding.
  • Limiting size – Parry said that larger container sizes are linked to heavy drinking. This proposal would see a limit on the sale of beer and ciders to 500 ml bottles, while wine and spirits would be limited to 750 ml.
  • Limiting quantity – Parry said that government could  impose restrictions on the sale of single units as opposed to multiple cases of liquor which would prevent people from buying in bulk and then reselling. He said that government could look at further restrictions around the transportation of alcohol in bulk quantities.
  • Blood alcohol – Government could further restrict rules around drunk driving, with Parry suggesting a new limit of .02 per 100 ml of blood. Transport minister Fikile Mbalula has already proposed new drunk driving rules for South Africa, but no implementation date has been set. The new proposal will see a total prohibition around the use and consumption of alcohol by all motor vehicle operators on South African public roads.
  • Further tests – Aligning with the above point, Parry said that the SAPS could also introduce more stringent tests for alcohol levels after vehicle accidents.
  • Medical reporting – Parry said that alcohol-related trauma should also become a notifiable condition at all of the country’s hospitals. This would allow hospitals to better predict how many trauma cases are alcohol-related and allow the government to make better decisions and see if its interventions are having an impact, he said.

Dr Glenda Gray, SA Medical Research Council president and member of the Covid-19 ministerial advisory committee, told Business Day TV that the government needs to be more flexible around the issue of an alcohol ban, and evening curfew.

“We need to be nimble. We have seen the impact that the curfew and the alcohol ban has done and we don’t need to be slow in our response to address these measures.

“My recommendation to government is to be nimble, is to look at the advice and look at the impact. We have achieved impact by having a curfew and prohibition on alcohol. We have achieved the (saving of) lives and now we need to look at livelihoods.

“We always looked at this as an interim or a temporary ban, and the government must respond to the data,” Gray said.

Read: Pick n Pay speaks out against ‘confusing, contradictory’ alcohol and cigarette ban

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Lifting South Africa’s alcohol ban: 6 changes government should introduce, according to medical experts