Binge drinkers are putting extreme pressure on the health system, meaning President Cyril Ramaphosa is likely to introduce harsher coronavirus regulations when he addresses the nation this week.
Binge drinkers could lead South Africa to a stricter lockdown as alcohol abuse continues to indirectly impact the availability of hospital beds, while directly contributing to increasing transmission of Covid-19 infections, say experts.
South Africa was nearing the one million mark of confirmed Covid-19 infections, with 11 500 new cases recorded on Saturday, including 245 new deaths.
This prompted President Cyril Ramaphosa to recall members of the National Coronavirus Command Council from leave for a meeting yesterday to address the current resurgence.
There is speculation of stricter regulations due to the spike in infections and this could include stricter rules when it comes to the sale of alcohol, said experts.
Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance in South Africa director Maurice Smithers said they advised government several months ago to monitor the sale of alcohol as they anticipated it would increase during the festive period. But this did not happen, he said.
ALSO READ: Liquor traders pre-empt another rumoured booze ban, with commitment to help fight Covid-19
“It was inevitable that there would be an increase given the fact that it’s holiday time and for whatever reason, alcohol is associated with this period. We made recommendations to put severe restrictions around [alcohol], particularly around the most important days, and that hasn’t happened.
“It looks like [alcohol restrictions] could probably happen. I would imagine it is possible that new restrictions would be brought in, particularly before New Year celebrations,” he said.
This was because alcohol indirectly impacted to filling up hospital beds due to alcohol-related trauma, accidents and violence, said South African Medical Research Council chief executive Professor Glenda Gray.
According to the National Institute of Communicable Diseases, 10 736 Covid-19 patients are currently hospitalised, with 964 admitted into ICU and 293 on ventilation.
“With alcohol, people get violent and [involved in] car accidents and need hospital beds. When you have a crisis with hospital beds, the solution is to control alcohol usage by curfews and restrictions on alcohol [sales] to keep people at home.
“The other thing is when you are drinking, you are screaming, shouting and having fun and that could be part of spreading Covid-19 to other people,” said Gray.
The South African Medical Association requested government to move back to Level 2 lockdown.
ALSO READ: Unemployed nurses called upon to assist in Western Cape hospitals
Chairperson Dr Angelique Coetzee said hospitals were running on skeleton staff due to the holiday period.
“We could find ourselves in a harder lockdown to help the healthcare system cope and they are not coping currently.
“What we need to do is get people not to come together in big groups to party, drink and use drugs. We must make sure that is not happening so we don’t see a lot of trauma-related incidents due to alcohol and drug abuse, which is the problem,” said Coetzee.
A total ban on alcohol sales was not a solution in either the short or long term. Instead, a tighter curfew and restrictions on liquor trade were possible alternatives, said the Liquor Traders Formations convener Lucky Ntimane.
“It is, however, our belief that any decision that affects our industry should be discussed with us beforehand and our inputs considered before any decision is communicated to the general public,” he said.
Level 2 was in place from 18 August to 20 September.
For more news your way, download The Citizen’s app for iOS and Android.