Alcohol ban hard to swallow

Editorial | Mary Ma 26 Mar 2020

Merely mentioning the possibility of banning alcohol from restaurants and bars has seen Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor attacked by not only the catering sector but also some of her close allies in the Executive Council.

A few public figures politically close to Lam have spoken up since she indicated the sale of alcoholic drinks could be banned after several coronavirus cases were linked to nightlife hub Lan Kwai Fong.

Tommy Cheung Yu-yan who, although an Exco member, had no choice but to speak against the ban because of his dual identity as a catering functional constituency lawmaker.

And Exco member Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee hardly surprised political watchers with her sarcasm.

But it was very strange to see Lam's Exco buddies - namely barrister and former pan-democrat Ronny Tong Ka-wah and pediatrician Lam Ching-choi - questioning the merits of the proposal when neither was supposed to.

There's little doubt that the chief executive has come under heavy pressure after proposing the alcohol ban.

To a limited extent, her buddies' questioning of the merits of such a ban could direct public attention to something else and remove the pressure from the chief executive.

She undoubtedly needs rescuing from yet another public relations disaster but, given her low popularity, she's in a weak position to lead the way.

Was she totally wrong in proposing a ban on the sale of beer, wine, whisky and all kinds of alcoholic in order to keep people apart?

Not necessarily. But while she was definitely right to introduce measures to increase social distance to make it more difficult for the virus to transmit from one person to another, the alcohol ban is nothing but a joke that will not achieve its aim.

How long will it take to have the legislation ready - days, weeks or months? By the time the ban is given a solid base, some lives could well have been lost or, if we are lucky enough, the coronavirus will be dying down.

Therefore, it would have no effect in halting the transmission. Remember the infection cluster linked to a so-called hot pot party earlier on? People get infected because they are physically close to each other. It's all about physical distance.

Restaurant and bar owners and their employees have been suffering hugely. As they try to keep their heads above water, the ban would drown them totally - unless the administration is able to give them an assurance, similar to that in Britain, that the government stands by businesses if the businesses stand by their workers.

Otherwise, the economy will be killed before a cure for the disease is found.

As I have said in this column before, the emergency financial budget would still be a failure if it could not help employers stay afloat no matter how much cash the government pays to each individual adult.

This is where the toughest challenge lies - preventing the economy from collapsing while saving lives.

The catering industry is trying to save itself through voluntary measures to keep customers apart from each other.

However, nothing will succeed without useful government input. Banning the sale of alcohol will not work.

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