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War against Covid 19; Is the Excise Dept. drunk? - EDITORIAL


29 April 2020 05:02 am - 0     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


Some happy news during this ‘lockdown’ period because of the Covid 19 pandemic is that it has proved to many who are addicted to liquor that drug addiction is a myth.
 What is needed is strong discipline and self control. This can be imposed from outside or could come from within the person. Alcoholism and the problems related to it is a major crisis in Sri Lanka. While it is a major health problem leading to deadly non-communicable deceases, it also has created many economical, social and inter-personnel problems specially among the poor and lower-middle class families.

However we saw that when liquor shops were allowed to open on April 20, after a month long curfew, how a large crowd desperately queued up outside liquor shops ignoring the guidelines regarding social distancing and other protective measures. There was so much pressure from the medical experts among others, that the government immediately re-imposed the ban on opening of liquor shops. 

All over the world medical practitioners have strongly warned that smoking can lead to Covid 19 infection and also have stressed the link it has with alcohol. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has cautioned that “alcohol has effects, both short-term and long-term, on almost every single organ of one’s body. And alcohol use, especially heavy use, weakens the immune system and thus reduces the ability to cope with infectious diseases”. The WHO has specifically noted that during the COVID-19 pandemic alcohol should be avoided altogether so that people would not undermine their own immune system and health. They also will not be a risk to health of others. 

In this context, the Sri Lanka Medical Association (SLMA), leading medical professional body strongly condemned a recent statement made by Excise Department’s Deputy Commissioner Kapila Kumarasinghe. He claimed that due to the closure of liquor shops Sri Lankan Government was losing an estimated Rs.15 billion a month by way of tax revenue. The SLMA’s Expert Committee on Tobacco, Alcohol and Illicit Drugs in a strongly worded response, said that the myth of “revenue generation” from alcohol was propagated by the alcohol industry to obtain profits over the dead bodies of its customers.

“What the people of Sri Lanka need now is good nutrition and protection from disease, not spurious alcohol industry friendly arguments from a government agency. The people of this country do not deserve the injuries, accidents, child abuse, domestic violence, depression, suicides, alcohol related strokes, heart attacks, cancers and cirrhosis now. The health sector also does not need an explosion of patients with alcohol related accidents and medical conditions. The police will be thankful for not having to deal with alcohol related incidents and accidents during the coming days and weeks,” the SLMA stated. 

Around the world millions die and fall sick from alcohol use. A study conducted by the Ministry of Health and the WHO has shown that the economic costs of alcohol use in Sri Lanka far outweighs the “revenue” generated. Therefore it will be actually profitable to the government keep alcohol selling points closed than keeping them open. However, the Department now seemed to be more concerned about the alcohol trade profiting, rather than the well-being of people and the country, the SLMA said. The Expert Committee has also criticised the Senior Excise officer’s other argument to support the lifting up the ban on liquor shops. He has claimed that illicit liquor trading was gaining ground with home breweries popping up across the country. The SLMA noted that the Excise Department officer seemed to have conveniently forgotten that one of its main functions was to eliminate illicit alcohol production. 

“If it has indeed forgotten, it should read the Excise Act carefully again and understand it. Is it admitting in public that it is  not equal to the task? Or is it turning a blind eye to such production, to use it as an excuse to open up liquor stores throughout the country, that will only benefit the alcohol trade?” the SLMA said
At this time of turmoil which some analyst have described as something like the World War III with the international enemy being an invisible germ,  health sector personnel including doctors, nurses and minor hospital employees are working day and night to save Covid 19 patients. All over the world the number afflicted has topped the three million mark while the number killed is more than 200,000. Other sectors like the police and military are also working tirelessly for the common good of people. It is the duty of all other government departments and private sectors to assist and support the efforts of those who are on the mission to win the war against the invisible monster. We advise Excise Department officials that they should not act like drunkards or alcoholics. 


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