‘Give us a break,’ say many as Mkhize tries to explain booze ban
Minister says it’s inexcusable to clog beds with drinkers, but citizens point to apparent double standards
It would be “inexcusable” to have hospital beds filled by patients who are casualties of alcohol abuse when that could compromise the lives of those who need treatment for Covid-19.
This is according to health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, who was briefing the media on Monday to elaborate on the stringent measures announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday night.
Among the measures announced on Sunday was the suspension on alcohol sales and the reintroduction of a night-time curfew.
Mkhize said while some people might have been taken by surprise, there were many who had welcomed and supported the suspension of the sale and distribution of alcohol.
Mkhize said the consumption of alcohol in SA was high.
“It is estimated that 31% of South Africans 15 years or older are alcohol drinkers. Despite the low proportion of adult South Africans who drink, we are one of the countries who drink the most,” he said.
Mkhize said almost six out of 10 drinkers over the age of 15 were reported to engage in “binge drinking”.
He said during lockdown levels 4 and 5, when alcohol sales were not permitted, there was a 60% to 70% reduction in trauma admissions to hospitals. However, when alcohol restrictions were lifted in level 3, facilities reported up to a 60% increase in trauma emergency centre admissions and up to a 200% increase in ICU trauma admissions.
It breaks the routine in the hospital management of patients. If somebody comes and is bleeding, you drop the person who is sick and deal with the one who is bleeding.Dr Zweli Mkhize
Mkhize said some health workers had spoken about the pressure that was caused by admitted trauma patients during the Covid-19 period.
“It breaks the routine in the hospital management of patients. If somebody comes and is bleeding, you drop the person who is sick and deal with the one who is bleeding,” Mkhize said.
There was a need to limit the number of trauma cases in hospitals as a result of alcohol abuse, he said.
“I have seen on social media a number of health workers who have been frustrated by patients who come in as a result of the trauma. Our people need to understand that we are trying to balance everything properly.
“This is the reason we believe during the surge we need to focus on one set of problems and that is the increasing numbers who are coming through needing urgent attention, and we should not find anyone coming in to find beds are blocked by people who could have been saved from an accident which brought them to hospital,” Mkhize said.
He pleaded for South Africans’ understanding and patience as the government navigated this difficult time.
“At the end of the day, it will be inexcusable to end up with beds blocked by something completely preventable and avoidable, as consumption of alcohol, and end up with the lives of people with a difficult viral infection being compromised,” Mkhize said.
We have 18 staff members and only six are working now, the rest are at home.Eric Sibanda
Many South Africans were dismayed by the decision.
Eric Sibanda, manager at the Pheli shisanyama in Atteridgeville, Pretoria, said the business had lost about R800,000 because of the ban on alcohol sales.
“This is affecting our pocket, including our staff, who are now sitting at home. We don’t think this will end any time soon, but we were hoping that by September everything will be fine, but it’s not [looking] promising. We have 18 staff members and only six are working now. This number of staff excludes security personnel. Now all we can do is give them food hampers as some are going hungry,” he said.
Dash Masondo, owner of Jeleesh bottle store, also in Atteridgeville, said though his business would be hit hard, Ramaphosa was trying to save lives.
“My business is being affected because of the no-alcohol sale, but as much as it is affecting my business, I still feel like it is for a better cause. We will see money after ... as long as lives are being saved.
“I do not oppose the president’s decision because people are reckless when they are drunk,” he said.
In Queensburgh, south of Durban, Prakash Naidoo said he was disappointed with the decision to reinstate the ban.
“I already started making inquiries [about] where I could buy alcohol this morning. Let’s be honest, we can still buy alcohol if we want to, it will just be more expensive,” he said.
Construction worker Lucky Ncube said he understood the fears around the virus, but saw no point in banning alcohol sales.
“We need beer. Some people can manage, but I must have my one beer when I finish work. Young people are the ones who did this, because they were having parties and gatherings.”
Ncube said while he believed the virus was real and deadly, he didn’t fully understand the reason for banning alcohol when taxis could operate at 100% capacity.
Single mother Candice Mertens sympathised with those who consumed alcohol. A non-drinker, Mertens said government was being unfair in its decisions.
“How is it that during a global pandemic you want to close bottle stores, but leave schools open? I just don’t get it. Just give people a break — first cigarettes and now alcohol again.”