Thursday, May 28, 2020

With bars closed, drinkers turn to home-brewed alcohol

The government’s plan to soberise the nation seem to have failed dismally and might likely to a shortage of certain fruits that some need to control chronic medical conditions. In our last edition, we reported about the underground sale of alcohol which in some cases involves unscrupulous bar owners secretly selling stock that remained at the time that the Ministry of Investment, Trade and Industry shut down legal trade.

However, with stock fast running out in some areas and having ran out in others, that Plan B has run its course and Plan C is being implemented across the country. The latter takes the form of home-brewing whose ingredients are bought from shops. One, as we reported last week, is alcohol powder called Power that is still available in some supermarkets and would most likely have been hoarded by some.Fruits are the main ingredient of these home brews, whose recipes are being widely shared on social media on a global scale. Fruits that can be used to make alcohol include apples, plums, berries, pomegranates, pumpkins, kiwis and grapes.

The Internet proper itself has millions of pages that provide step by step instructions on how to make different types of alcohol from ordinary food that one can still buy from supermarkets. What this means is that a Facebook subscriber in Serowe can learn how to trick out wine from plums courtesy of another subscriber in Osaka, Tokyo – or pumpkin wine courtesy of a subscriber in New York. For Botswana, this could compound the food-security challenge that the country has long had. Shortage of fruits, which is already becoming apparent, would imperil those with medical conditions that require them to eat fruits.The instinct of officialdom has been to unleash joint police-and-army patrol teams to close down shebeens but Plan C offers a particular law-enforcement challenge.

This brewing is being done in the privacy of homes by ordinarily law-abiding people, some living in high-income areas. The police typically target low-income areas to enforce alcohol-related laws. The real answer to this problem lies in public health education and not in intensifying policing. Credible medical science says that drinking alcohol is a very bad idea during this crisis. Alcohol typically weakens the immune system, making it easy for COVID-19 to attack and ravage the human body.

Unfortunately, the public health education COVID-19 has not harped this point as much as it does washing hands with clean water and soap and sneezing into the crook of the arm. The public health element was also missing when the announcement about the suspension of alcohol trade was made.There also appears to be inadequate knowledge and confusion among some members of the public about how alcohol features in the whole COVID-19 story.

A fortnight ago, a Sunday Standard article highlighted the pitfall of using “alcohol” in “alcohol-based hand sanitiser” without the proper cross-cultural context. There are three types of alcohol: isopropyl, methyl and ethyl. The latter is the alcohol that is the focus of this article, the other two are not. On the basis of what they know alcohol to be, some people still mistakenly believe that the alcohol in “alcohol-based hand sanitiser” means ethyl and can be used to kill the virus.

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Sunday Standard May 24 – 30

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of May 24 - 30, 2020.