Sri Lanka Medical Association writes Finance Minister Basil Rajapaksa over the resumption of liquor sales and requests the government to take steps to immediately discontinue the sale of alcohol and not to provide permission for internet sales of alcohol.
The leading professional body of Sri Lanka’s Medical professionals SLMA further points out that these decisions will make matters worse for all Sri Lankans already suffering from many hardships due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Read the full letter below
Hon Basil Rajapaksa,
Minister of Finance,
Ministry of Finance,
Lotus Road Colombo 1.
Allowing sales of alcohol during quarantine curfew and moves to sell alcohol through the internet
As the country is moving into a new phase of its response on COVID-19, we consider it the responsibility of all citizens and organizations, and not only the responsibility of the government, to ensure that the significant gains we have made during the past few weeks are protected and further strengthened.
In this context, the Sri Lanka Medical Association is concerned that permission has been granted to re-start the sale of alcohol even before the quarantine curfew is lifted. This will result in people gathering at alcohol selling points breaking the curfew, spending whatever little money they have on alcohol and increasing domestic violence, child abuse and road accidents. Some may also organize alcohol-centred gatherings at their homes increasing the likelihood of further spreading the highly transmissible strain of the COVID-19 virus that is circulating in the country. Therefore, this move will result in the health sector having the added burden of managing extra cases of Covid-19 in addition to the other eminently preventable conditions caused by alcohol use.
This will also contribute to hindering the efforts of the government to ensure that families in need have enough food by distributing money directly to those in need. It will also place a significant burden on the already stretched Sri Lanka Police. As you are aware, scientific studies have also shown that the economic costs of alcohol in Sri Lanka far exceed the revenue collected. Therefore, when all aspects are considered, this move will have an extremely negative impact, not only on the health and social aspects, but on the economic aspect as well.
We are also gravely concerned of the reported moves to allow internet sales of alcohol, which have been reported in the media during the last few days. As you are aware, the National Authority on Tobacco and Alcohol Act (NATA) No. 26 of 2006 expressly prohibits advertising alcohol in the internet.
Internet sales will also circumvent the age, time and place restrictions mandated for alcohol sales in this country, through the Excise Ordinance and the NATA Act. The issue of sale of illicit alcohol has been brought up many times by the alcohol industry and the Excise Department in the past, to justify allowing alcohol sales in liquor shops during the quarantine curfew and sales through the internet. Since primary task of the Excise Department is enforcing the laws related to alcohol in Sri Lanka, especially the laws on illicit alcohol, they should be prosecuting the perpetrators, rather than issuing press statements helpful to the alcohol industry, and at the same time implying the Department cannot enforce its own mandate. As you would agree, providing easy access to alcohol will amplify many health, social and economic problems at this difficult time which both the government and the people can ill afford. Therefore, we earnestly request the government to take steps to immediately discontinue sale of alcohol and not to provide permission for internet sales of alcohol which will make matters worse for all Sri Lankans already suffering from many hardships due to Covid-19 pandemic.