Alcohol ban and lockdown level 4 could be extended for weeks

While the inter-provincial travel ban preventing movement into and out of Gauteng for leisure purposes could be relaxed, the other restrictions of South Africa’s current level 4 lockdown should not be reduced.

This is the view of CSIR researchers Ridhwaan Suliman and Jabu Mtsweni, based on their analysis of South Africa’s Covid-19 infections, available hospital capacity, and other factors.

Mtsweni and Suliman said that considering that hospitals in Gauteng are already at capacity — almost similar levels as we saw in South Africa’s second wave — freeing up beds for Covid-19 patients is a primary concern.

“The alcohol ban tries to achieve this,” the researchers stated.

“But, we do also understand that this has a serious impact on businesses, so balancing lives and livelihoods is very challenging on the alcohol issue.”

Their analysis comes after the wine industry released a report on Thursday warning that many businesses will go under if the current prohibition on alcohol sales in South Africa continues.

“The fact that national government chooses not to take a differentiated approach to decisions with regard to the management of Covid-19 means that the current ban could be extended for the next four to five weeks after the current two-week ban is set to end on 11 July 2021,” said Vinpro MD Rico Basson.

Vinpro is a non-profit company that represents just under 2,600 winemakers in South Africa.

“Many wine businesses would go under or would have to lay off staff as they won’t have sufficient cash-flow to fund their payroll,” Basson stated.

Restaurants have lodged similar complaints and have joined a legal challenge against South Africa’s level 4 lockdown regulations brought by South African Breweries.

Ridhwaan Suliman, Senior Researcher at the CSIR

“We are not cresting the peak nationally, but rather seeing a slow-down or levelling off just in Gauteng, which was previously accounting for 60% of total cases nationally,” Mtsweni and Suliman told MyBroadband.

“While Gauteng has passed an inflection point, cases are still rising nationally as we see significant increases in new infections in Western Cape and KwaZulu Natal, as well as all of the neighbouring provinces of Gauteng.”

Given that infections are seeded in all other provinces and rising, the researchers believe that the National Coronavirus Command Council should relax the travel ban on Gauteng.

“A travel ban on Gauteng is not only practically challenging but will have little effect on the epidemiological trajectories of other provinces now,” they said.

However, the area where restrictions should remain firmly in place is gatherings.

“The number one risk for onward transmission remains gatherings, and in particular indoor gatherings,” said Mtsweni and Suliman.

To slow down and limit transmission, gatherings need to be limited as far as possible. Any required gatherings should be moved outdoors.

“Gyms and restaurants need to think creatively in how they can adjust their offering and possibly provide their services outdoors,” they said.

Jabu Mtsweni, Head of Cyber and Information Research Centre at the CSIR

In response to a plea from Ster-Kinekor to allow it to reopen its doors, Mtsweni and Suliman said that drive-ins could be safely reopened as this is not a gathering but rather household bubbles that do not come into contact with one another.

“We think, for now, the current restrictions’ status quo should remain with a few adjustments,” said Mtsweni and Suliman.

They noted that mobility patterns are still quite high — indicating that there is still a lot of movement of people.

Mtsweni and Suliman said that the mobility patterns need to reduce as much as possible to curb a resurgence in Covid-19 infections in those provinces lagging behind Gauteng, but which are seeing increases now, such as the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.

“We are all crossing our fingers that restrictions do not last long as they have a ripple socio-economic effect, but at the current rate of infections, it is not advisable to reduce restrictions, but rather find better ways to balance them to lessen the impact,” the researchers said.

Now read: Covid-19 vaccine rollout extended to over-35s in South Africa — when you can get it

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Alcohol ban and lockdown level 4 could be extended for weeks