A total alcohol ban is needed to reduce trauma cases and free up hospital space in Gauteng as the province struggles to cope with the rise of Covid-19 cases.
This is the view of Professor Charles Parry, director of the Alcohol, Tobacco and other drug research unit at the SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC).
Although Parry is not directly involved with the national and provincial coronavirus command councils, he still gives recommendations to these bodies.
Speaking to ENCA, Parry said Covid-19 cases in Gauteng are expected to peak in around two weeks, and hospitals are already full.
An alcohol ban should be considered to prevent trauma cases, which take up hospital beds that could be used for Covid-19 patients.
Parry said data from the previous lockdown phase shows that what the government is doing now will not reduce trauma cases.
“It isn’t sufficient to only have some controls on curfew and limited controls of alcohol, like the restriction on off-consumption sales from Monday to Friday,” he said.
“What our research shows is that only full a liquor sales ban substantially reduced alcohol-related trauma.”
A ban on alcohol sales in only Gauteng, the epicentre of the third wave, is unlikely to work because people will bring alcohol across the provincial border.
Parry said with Gauteng set to reach the peak of the third wave in early July, a potential alcohol ban should last for a month.
He conceded that it is a tough political decision as a ban will hurt the alcohol industry and result in job losses.
Dr Mark Human from the Gauteng branch of the South African Medical Association said the lockdowns in the past were not the correct answer.
He said Covid-19 spread through person-to-person contact. What is therefore needed is curbing people coming together, especially in large groups.
“Large gatherings are the single biggest target which should be focussed on,” he said.
Human added that alcohol plays a significant role in people not adhering to non-pharmaceutical interventions like social distancing.
“It is quite difficult to understand that liquor stores remain open. It makes absolutely no sense,” he said.
These comments come amidst a warning from Gauteng Premier David Makhura that the province is facing a COVID-19 crisis.
There is a shortage of hospital beds, there is not enough oxygen, and there are not enough medical professionals to care for patients.
Medics from the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) were called in to help, but this is not enough to cope with the growing demand for healthcare.
“Our province is under fire. This place is burning with [the] coronavirus. Everywhere in the province, the positivity rate is extremely high. The chances of getting infected are extremely high wherever you are,” Makhura said.
The Gauteng premier said the province might need more restrictions to curb the spread of the virus.
“The pandemic is out of control. Something needs to be done,” he said.
President Cyril Ramaphosa has also expressed concern about the rise in Covid-19 cases, especially in Gauteng.
Ramaphosa said the government would meet this week to discuss restrictions, adding that it might be necessary for the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) to review the lockdown level in the country.
He said indications are that the government will have to increase the measures that it puts in place to prevent Covid-19, particularly in Gauteng.
The president noted that the country’s first hard lockdown in March 2020 did help bring down infections at the start of the pandemic.