For the first time in more than three weeks, President Cyril Ramaphosa will address the nation on Sunday night.
He may announce restrictions on alcohol sales following pleas from Health Minister Zweli Mkhize and others.
This week, Mkhize said that an increase in alcohol-related trauma cases is putting a strain on hospitals, and tabled the issue before the National Coronavirus Command Council, which met over the weekend.
There has been a surge in coronavirus infections in South Africa, which currently stands at 264 184 – putting the country in the top 10 worldwide, eclipsing even Italy (242 827), which has been one of the hardest hit.
While South Africa’s death rate of 3 971 is still comparatively low compared to countries with similar infection rates – in Italy, nearly 35 000 people died – local hospitals are taking strain.
News24 reported this week that all government hospitals in Gauteng have reached maximum bed capacity, while in the Eastern Cape hospitals have also been struggling to cope with an influx of patients.
The situation has been worsened by a spike in the number of alcohol-related trauma cases since the ban on alcohol sales was lifted on 1 June. Mkhize reported a 40% to 50% increase in trauma cases.
“When there was a lockdown, it was quite clear that casualty departments did not have a lot of pressure,” Mkhize said. “We have now been receiving in this hospital, and many other hospitals, lots of complaints about that fact that the alcohol-related trauma is causing a lot of pressure.”
News24 previously reported that in recent weeks, Western Cape Premier Alan Winde, Gauteng Premier David Makhura and Eastern Cape Premier Oscar Mabuyane have also spoken about the impact of alcohol-related cases on hospitals.
But the alcohol industry has cautioned government against further restrictions to sales.
In a statement – supported by the South African Liquor Brandowners’ Association (SALBA), the Beer Association of South Africa (BASA), VinPro, Liquor Traders Association of South Africa (LTASA) and the Liquor Traders Council of South Africa (LTCSA) – the industry warned that a further ban on sales would affect the income of up to one million people.
“After an initial liquor stock-up that lasted two weeks, liquor sales have started slowing recently and the share of spend has dropped to below what it was last year,” the industry said in a statement.
It also warned of increased contagion due to panic buying.
SALBA CEO Kurt Moore said that: “As an industry we are deeply concerned about the surge of Covid-19 infections, however, any additional restriction on sales, including an outright ban, shorter trading hours or further restrictions on trading, would likely increase panic buying and overcrowding at retail outlets, which would increase the risk of transmission of the virus.”
Under Level 3, consumers can buy alcohol products from Monday to Thursday between 09:00 and 17:00.
Other issues that Ramaphosa may address on Sunday night could include confusion over leisure travel. The presidency shared social posts on Friday evening that appeared to announce that hotels, lodges and guest houses can accommodate leisure tourists – and not only business travellers.
To the disappointment of hotels, these were soon deleted, after the presidency said the posts were made in error, and that accommodation should not be open for leisure travel yet.