Andile Tshuma, Chronicle Correspondent
Despite the closure of bars and night clubs as part of measures to curb the spread of Covid-19, people continue to meet over drinks.
According to police, lockdown violation arrests comprise mostly of liquor offences like public drinking, illegal parties and operation of illegal beer drinking outlets.
Health bodies such as the World Health Organisation (WHO) have associated alcohol consumption to a number of communicable and noncommunicable diseases that can make a person more vulnerable to catching Covid-19.
The health body says drinking alcohol can increase the risk of catching Covid-19 as the immune system is weakened by alcohol, especially for heavy drinkers and also reduces ability to cope with infectious diseases, among other downsides.
In Bulawayo, people continue to flout lockdown regulations by drinking in public, especially at shopping centres, while others drink from cars, seemingly unaware of the threat of Covid-19 infections.
Some groups in society have since called for an alcohol sales ban, with the belief that the move will help lower Covid-19 transmissions in the country.
A Matshobane suburb resident, Mr Alex Moyo called for Government to introduce an alcohol ban, as shebeens and house parties have become a problem in his area.
“Government must just ban alcohol sales. Bars are closed but shebeens are a menace in the suburbs. While the noise from the music is not so much as they fear raids, patrons urinate in our driveways, and their cars block our gates. The best is to stop all alcohol sales until this situation improves. They will spread this virus right across the city. A drunk person is more likely to disregard Covid-19 rules like social distancing or regular sanitisation,” said Mr Moyo.
Mrs Saneliso Zondo said an alcohol ban would be welcome as revellers were exposing community members to Covid-19.
“We need the ban. People spend the day drinking in groups and playing cat and mouse with the police. At night they come home, exposing us to Covid-19. In the morning, we go to the boreholes to fetch water, we interact with other people, and it will be a matter of time before the whole community has the virus. We want a more serious lockdown and a ban of alcohol,” she said.
Other residents however were against the idea, saying people must act responsibly and be allowed to drink.
“What would we be as men, if we cannot drink. Under lockdown, we are forced to stay at home, so we stay at home and do what, if we cannot drink?” asked Mr Clarence Muneri.
Ms Geraldine Ncube said Zimbabweans must learn from South Africa where a ban on alcohol sales had not yielded pleasant results and Covid-19 cases continued to shoot up in the country.
“Just look at what happened in South Africa. Alcohol has been banned twice, but cases are going up and are now competing with the top five in the world. Government must just ensure people drink from home, and let them be,” she said.
Industry leaders have however said an alcohol ban would further dent an already struggling economy, as the country was dealing with the effects of Covid-19.
An economist, Mr Reginald Shoko said while an alcohol ban would bring sanity and make it easier to contain the virus, it was important to keep the wheels of the economy moving.
“True, an alcohol ban may bring order and possibly lead to lower numbers of local transmissions. However, alcohol on its own is a very big industry. Banning this industry has repercussions for the economy. Already the industry has taken a serious knock. Think about the livelihoods that are benefitting from this industry, not all brewers will withstand the wave and be able to resume operations after closure. Some may shut down for good, meaning job losses for breadwinners. To totally ban alcohol is to shut down the industry, an industry that also significantly contributes to the nation’s taxes. From a health perspective, it works, but economically, it will not work. We cannot kill the goose that lays the egg,” said Mr Shoko.
Mpilo Central Hospital clinical director and acting chief executive officer Professor Solwayo Ngwenya said an alcohol ban was needed in the country as dealing with “sober” people was better during a pandemic.
“This is a different time altogether. Economies may take a knock, but they can recover in the future; we cannot recover human life. Stringent lockdown measures such as alcohol bans are needed. We all need to sober up about the situation we are facing. It has been seen that alcohol is fueling the spread of the virus, so by all means, a temporary ban on alcohol sales is necessary. Once intoxicated, people start sharing utensils, drinking bottles calabashes, social distancing is not practised, masks are not worn as mouths are exposed. It is chaotic. People do not drink from home. Even if bars are closed, people are still meeting to drink in groups. While a ban on sales will not completely stop the problem as people will devise means of getting beer, it will certainly improve the situation that we are in,” said Prof Ngwenya.
Zimbabwe Medical Association President Dr Francis Chiwora said extreme actions such as alcohol bans were not going to yield fruits, due to porous borders, but called for intensified surveillance and monitoring of communities and increased awareness on the Covid-19 virus.
“An alcohol ban may not be the answer as people may still find ways to get hold of beer, what is needed is intensified surveillance to monitor that people do not drink in groups, that there are no house parties and to continue spreading awareness on personal responsibility when it comes to the virus,” said Dr Chiwora.
Police have expressed concern at the increasing number of liquor offences during the lockdown, and have said they will not hesitate to arrest violators.
National police spokesperson Assistant Commissioner Paul Nyathi said a ban could be considered and called for residents to report any lockdown violations especially people holding gatherings in their vicinities, as they were putting communities at risk of contracting the virus. “We encourage members of the public to comply with lockdown regulations. We are worried by the number of violations, especially liquor offences which include illegal house parties, the operation of shebeens and public drinking, when we are on lockdown. Covid-19 is real, it kills and we will not hesitate to protect society by arresting delinquents,” he said.
Asst Comm Nyathi noted that some people buy beer through the backdoor at some bars which are operating despite being ordered to close.
“Some bars are illegally operating during this time and people buy beer from there while some lock themselves inside bars and drink from inside, pretending it is closed, some have been arrested,” he said. [email protected]_tshuma