Without lockdown, Brazilian cities pass prohibition laws

. May 25, 2020
lockdown prohibition laws

On Sunday, Brazil recorded more new coronavirus deaths than any other country in the world: 653 — with a total number of 22,666 casualties. Still, most Brazilian states and municipalities resist the idea of a strict lockdown. In São Paulo, for example, a six-day “weekend” was created to raise social isolation rates, to no avail. And on a federal level, the government continues to bash even the mildest isolation policies. To avoid keeping people at home against their will — except to perform essential activities — a handful of local administrators from various ends of the political spectrum have tried something different: Covid-19-induced prohibition.

</p> <p>The northeast state of Piauí was the <a href="">first to restrict alcohol sales</a> —&nbsp;but only during a three-day weekend. Governor Wellington Dias, of the center-left Workers&#8217; Party, said the move aimed at reducing car crashes, which would then reduce hospitalizations for reasons other than Covid-19. He added that forbidding people from drinking in public spaces also makes social distancing easier. &#8220;When people drink too much, they lose their sense of judgment, then there&#8217;s hugging, kissing, contamination … I want people to go back to hugging, kissing, and celebrating together, but it&#8217;s not the time,&#8221; said Mr. Dias, without detailing the effects of the move — or why it was only enforced for three days.</p> <p>In Palmas, the capital city of Tocantins, Mayor Cinthia Ribeiro tried to enforce an open-ended prohibition law on May 16. Ms. Ribeiro, a member of the center-right Social Democracy Party, claims the decision was based on studies carried out by the Health Ministry&#8217;s Health Emergency Operation Center, linking excessive alcohol consumption to lower immunity, which would make people more vulnerable to the coronavirus. The mayor also justified the move by pointing out Palmas&#8217; high rates of domestic violence — the city has the <a href="">eighth-highest incidence</a> among Brazilian state capitals.</p> <p>But Ms. Ribeiro&#8217;s endeavor was short-lived. Just two days after her prohibition was enforced, a state court struck it down. The case&#8217;s judge cited the <a href="">financial risk</a> to beverage vendors.</p> <p>In São Sebastião do Oeste, a 5,000-people town in countryside Minas Gerais, an alcohol ban was passed in order to prevent house parties that could become breeding grounds for infections. On May 13, the town hall issued the prohibition decree, valid for 20 days, establishing that non-compliance will be punished by a BRL 5,000 fine for companies, and BRL 80 for individuals.</p> <p>The same reason motivated the town of Urandi, in the arid backlands of Brazil&#8217;s Northeast, to pass its own ban&nbsp;to run through June 1. With 42 confirmed cases so far, the 16,000-people town threatens to suspend licenses from vendors who refuse to abide by the rules. Urandi&#8217;s stance is as hard as municipalities are allowed to be. &#8220;The Supreme Court has granted municipalities powers to regulate commerce and issue administrative fines against trespassers —&nbsp;including shutting down establishments. But they are not allowed to use the police on these matters,&#8221; says constitutional law expert Guilherme Amorim.</p> <h2>Countries with pandemic prohibition laws</h2> <p>Places such as Panama and Greenland have enforced alcohol bans during the pandemic —&nbsp;but perhaps no country has gone to the same lengths as South Africa. In one of the world&#8217;s strictest lockdowns since March 26, the country banned both tobacco and alcohol in a controversial move. Pretoria claimed the ban was a necessary public health measure, citing empty emergency rooms as evidence of its success. Critics, however, say the prohibition handed over the industry to organized crime, cost the state billions in invaluable tax revenue, and criminalized millions of South Africans.&nbsp;</p> <p>Alcohol and cigarettes are still widely available, as powerful syndicates flooded the market with knock-off brands at heftier prices. Tobacco smuggling is one of the most lucrative rackets in the country’s underworld and the men who control it have close links to senior political leaders. Since the beginning of the ban, the government has been polarized between competing factions on this issue — one centered around the Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, an outspoken prohibitionist — and his critics.</p> <p>Tens of thousands of South Africans have been arrested for non-compliance. In a high-profile case, the police and the military have been accused of beating a man to death while enforcing their prohibition rules. Collins Khosa was accosted by law enforcement for drinking a beer on his porch. South Africa is set to maintain its tobacco ban, but allow for alcohol sales when it moves to a more flexible lockdown regime on June 1.</p> <h2>The perils of substance abuse during the pandemic</h2> <p>As reporter Lucas Berti showed earlier this month, Brazilians are <a href="">drinking more at home</a> —&nbsp;with a bump in alcohol sales in supermarkets and delivery apps. Meanwhile, Dutch brewer Heineken registered a fall in revenue of just 5 percent in Brazil, a fraction of its global drop of 69 percent.</p> <p>A <a href="">study</a> published by the <em>Alcohol and Drug Review</em> by researchers from Canada, Brazil, South Africa, and the U.S. — alongside the World and Pan-American Health Organizations —&nbsp;warns about the lasting consequences for a bump in substance abuse during the pandemic.&nbsp;</p> <p>People are exercising less and eating more junk —&nbsp;not to mention an increased consumption of alcohol, drugs, and pornography. Many experts predict that, while social isolation is the best way to curb the coronavirus infection curve, it will take a <a href="">serious toll</a> on people&#8217;s mental and emotional health.</p> <hr class="wp-block-separator"/> <p><em>Additional reporting by Benjamin Fogel and Brenno Grillo.</em>

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Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

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