By Joyce Mukucha
Following the Government’s ban on alcohol sales in retail outlets in light of the COVID-19 virus lockdown, the Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance (SAAPA) Zimbabwe has applauded the bold step explaining that it was concerned about building a healthy nation and empowered communities.
SAAPA is a national network of civil society organisations advocating for a public health centred, evidence-based alcohol policy in Zimbabwe.
Through an Extraordinary Government Gazette dated 28th March 2020, the Government of Zimbabwe declared a Public Health Emergency resulting in a 21-day national lockdown due to the COVID-19 virus pandemic.
Pursuant to the Extraordinary Government Gazette, the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) on the 2nd of April 2020 issued a statement to the general public stating that they will be enforcing a ban on the sale of alcohol in retail outlets countrywide in the wake of the 21-day national lockdown to mitigate the spread of COVID-19.
In a statement, SAAPA Zimbabwe said, to ensure a healthy nation and empowered communities, it was critical to alleviate alcohol’s burden on the health and economic system and to reinvest those resources to benefit public health and wellbeing.
“As a stakeholder, we are concerned with public health, in particular, the harm caused by alcohol and we commend the Government of Zimbabwe for taking this step in issuing the public health order on the amendment of liquor regulations specifically the prohibition of gatherings and closing down of all liquor outlets.
“Alcohol, when ingested by humans, weakens the immune system and increases the risk of infection with COVID-19 and other infectious diseases. Apart from increasing episodes of Gender-Based Violence during the lockdown, drinking alcohol also affects the individual’s ability to make sensible choices to protect themselves from the virus.
“Crowded places like bars coupled with drunken behaviour also increases the chances of being infected and/or spreading the virus. In that regard, the enactment of the Public Health Order by the government is a demonstration of immense political will, leadership, commitment, and readiness to act in recognition of the health risks posed by the COVID-19 virus,” the statement reads.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a public health and economic crisis. In times of extremely scarce resources, society benefits from more regulation of the alcohol industry in order to decrease alcohol harm.
SAAPA also highlighted that the lockdown was a temporary measure in recognition of the grave dangers posed by the COVID-19 virus and urged the nation to learn from the positive outcomes that will result from restricting alcohol during this period.
“The organisation’s hope is that the nation learns from the positive outcomes that will result from restricting alcohol consumption during this period and consider fast-tracking the enactment of the draft National Alcohol Policy and be able to sustain some of the gains achieved beyond COVID-19 to promote public health and protect the overall wellbeing of the nation.
“We encourage law enforcement agencies to exhibit a high level of professionalism and ensure that the laws are obeyed. We also advise the general public to continue being vigilant and resist the temptation to resort to cheap counterfeit alcohol and support the efforts of the Government in advancing public health during this lockdown period.”