South Africa Bans Alcohol During Lockdown, UK Makes It Essential!

I woke up to the news that South Africa has banned all alcohol sales for the next 3 weeks of Covid-19 lockdown.  Even though no alcohol has passed my lips for 2 years when I heard this news I had a mini meltdown by proxy.  I may not drink any more but I still have plenty of sympathy for those that do – like an amputated itch. 

I reached out to folk in South Africa and I asked them just how it felt to be living in prohibition. I expected outrage and anger but surprisingly there was more considered calm than that. 

Alcohol won’t help anyone in South Africa right now

Steph McBryne, who lives in Cape Town, told me that in many ways the ban would genuinely help limit the spread of Covid 19, especially given the role that alcohol plays in South African life.

“South Africans are always about community… alcohol breaks down barriers. People wouldn’t understand social distancing if we were allowed to drink.”

I get that and it’s absolutely true. The last thing the fight against Covid-19 needs right now is a social lubricant, especially in South Africa where home brewed booze is a particular problem, (although the ban won’t change).

Anni, a Johannesburg resident also approved of the ban – and she works in the alcohol industry!

”There is a huge problem with domestic violence here in SA. There is a concern that the problems will spiral out of control during lock down.”

South African’s (those I spoke to) seemed to be on board with the ban although nobody is sure just how the SA government plan to help dependent drinkers. In the UK, however, we are so determined to drink that the Prime Minister has made extra special allowances. Lucky us!

Alcohol is an essential item during lockdown, apparently

Yesterday, Boris Johnson added off licenses and breweries to a list of essential services which should remain open during lockdown, a full list of which can be found here. Why? To keep those small businesses going? To ease the pressure on supermarkets?  Or is it in fact, to keep the nation happy; to give everyone something nice to look forward to at the end of the day and to ease our boredom?

When I was researching the South African lock down ban, another story on South Africa’s News 24 caught my attention. The title was taken from a comment by a concerned reader –

‘If I use a bucket of water to do laundry, then I have no water to cook or wash hands.’

It stopped me in my tracks. I just couldn’t imagine, from my privileged position in the UK how that level of lack would feel. If I had a limited supply of water and a communal tap from which to collect it, I guess boredom wouldn’t be my worst enemy. Not having a glass of Sauvignon Blanc to look forward to seems entirely doable. 

How is alcohol essential?

Yes, the South African ban is extreme. If booze is the only thing getting you through this nightmare then go for it but Boris Johnson has taken us to the opposite extreme. Adding off licenses to the list of essential services is completely absurd.

Medicine? Absolutely. Food? Of course. Pinot Grigio? Come on!

We are in lock down. People are dying. That means that the default position has to be scarcity. Everything is off the menu unless it specifically gets added back on. We’re in an ‘opt-in’ situation. Alcohol is still available at supermarkets and the supermarkets are all open, therefore alcohol is on the menu in the UK. That should be enough and yet somehow it’s not.

Sure, it’s been hard to get hold of alcohol but it’s been hard to get hold of pasta. We haven’t suddenly made all Italian restaurants essential services! 

Covid-19 and alcohol do not mix

The fact is that every time someone leaves their home they put lives at risk. Every time a nurse, delivery driver or doctor goes out, they risk contracting the illness, passing it on to others and ultimately they risk dying. But it’s genuinely essential that they do so.

How essential is it for you to get a drink? It isn’t. The end.

Did the news of off licenses being made ‘essential services’ seem normal to you?

If it did then maybe it’s time for some reflection. Not just on your own relationship with alcohol. Maybe we all need to take a step back? I think that we are all under the alcohol spell, on a societal level.

How important is alcohol to you? Would it be okay to be able to grab some beers at the supermarket if they are available? Or do you need to know that alcohol will always be there at your local off license?

For me, prohibition would have been a complete nightmare and it’s encouraging to hear the South Africans I have spoken to sounding so okay with it all. I’m guessing those people have healthy relationships with alcohol – or they have been stock piling for weeks….

I think that at some point in the not too distant future we’re going to wake up from the alcohol spell and when we do we’ll wonder what the fuck we were thinking. 


For more on quitting or cutting down alcohol check out @TheAlcoholSpell