SA needs to have a conversation about alcohol: Zweli Mkhize on possible Covid-19 resurgence

16 November 2020 - 13:22
While there was not yet any basis on which to consider reintroducing a ban on booze, health minister Zweli Mkhize said it was time SA had a serious conversation about alcohol abuse.
While there was not yet any basis on which to consider reintroducing a ban on booze, health minister Zweli Mkhize said it was time SA had a serious conversation about alcohol abuse.
Image: 123RF/KZENON

The government does not yet have a basis to implement restrictions on mass gatherings, or the sale and consumption of alcohol, despite the increasing number of Covid-19 infections. 

This was revealed by health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize on Sunday evening. He was addressing the media on the country's response and readiness to deal with a possible second wave of the virus. 

He said SA had not yet reached a second wave but the government had identified areas of concern and where interventions were needed the most. 

He was certain alcohol had a “negative contribution” and adverse impact on the country's health system during the pandemic.   

Mkhize said many things would need to be balanced before consideration of an alcohol ban being reintroduced.

“We had to go to court to prove that there was actually scientific basis for restricting alcohol - there were are a lot of court applications to deal with that. Our approach now would be, we don't have yet the basis on which to put in the same restriction as before and therefore we will play it by ear.

“Whenever the situation might arise that will require certain restrictions, government will not hesitate to bring those. We are not at that level and we hope that the way we behave might keep the resurgence so far that we don't need government to be putting up additional restrictions,” said Mkhize.   

Commenting on the possible ban on mass gatherings, he said a decision had not yet been made but there were ongoing talks with local and district governments.     

While the government could not do much about alcohol, Mkhize said a societal discussion was needed.   

“We do need to have a conversation as South Africans on what we can do to reduce the excessive consumption of alcohol and all the negative outcomes of alcohol,” he added.

At the time of his address, SA had recorded 751,024 cases in total and 20,241 Covid-19 related fatalities, which translated to a 2.7% case fatality rate. 

A breakdown of the cases shows that the majority of the cases are from Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal, the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape. They account for 586,668 cases - 65% of the total.  

While there were several areas of concern based on cluster outbreaks, Mkhize said they were not yet an indication of a resurgence.  

“A Covid-19 resurgence is defined as approximately 20% increase of the average incidence of Covid-19 cases using a seven-day moving average within a defined area ... We can't say the second wave has arrived, we have just seen an increase in the cluster activities ... it can still be contained,” he said. 

Mkhize added that whether SA would have a second wave depended on the behaviour of all adhering to the health and safety measures in place.   

“It's important to adhere to non-pharmaceutical interventions. We need to send a very strong message - of washing hands, sanitising, social distancing, wearing masks.

“It is more important now than before ... We need sustained behavioural change.”

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