During an oversight visit to Nelson Mandela Bay to assess the deteriorating pandemic situation in the Eastern Cape, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize warned that the government would send a “strong message” over alcohol abuse, curfew violations and the failure to implement social distancing measures.
Mkhize said he was shocked when a doctor showed him a picture of a well-known tavern in Port Elizabeth, Daily Maverick reports.
“There were no masks. No distancing. It would be impossible not to catch Covid-19 if it is there,” he said. “During the surge we had to deal with the issue of alcohol. If we have staff fatigue and overcrowding of casualty units, bring me the figures … we will look at it again.”
BusinessTech reports that at a media briefing on Sunday, 15 November, Mkhize said that alcohol has a negative contribution to a number of aspects of our lives – and the general health of the population. During lockdown, the sale of alcohol was banned so as to free up hospital beds, and to make it easier for health workers to focus on Covid-19 related cases.
The health minister noted the difficulties around banning alcohol in a democratic country – pointing out that the government needed scientific proof in court to enforce the ban previously. “Our approach would be, we don’t have yet, the basis on which to do the same restrictions that we have done before. “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,” he said.
Daily Maverick reported that Mkhize said doctors from the Cuban medical contingent were being withdrawn from their current postings and sent to Nelson Mandela Bay. The international humanitarian organisation, Doctors Without Borders (MSF), has also sent two medical officers and four nurses.
Mkhize asked for statistics relating to injuries and casualty admissions linked to alcohol abuse in the metro, saying that once he has these, they will have a conversation about what steps to take.
Mkhize visited Nelson Mandela Bay’s dedicated Covid-19 facility, Livingstone Hospital, on Tuesday, 17 November. Officials spoke of full hospitals, makeshift intensive care units and more than 10 people dying a day of the virus. The head of the metro’s disaster management forum, Shane Brown, said there had also been an increase in alcohol-related injuries and accidents, which put even more strain on hospitals.
Recounting how he had seen people at the weekend at a popular braai spot in Port Elizabeth sharing the same beers and cigarettes, Brown said he was in full support of cooperative governance minister Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma’s position on the dangers of alcohol and tobacco.
Mkhize said the government will assist in upgrading facilities where makeshift ICUs were created to ensure that patients receive the treatment they need. “But we are going to have to send a strong message,” he said.
“The long queues (at grant payout points and at the Post Office) must be dealt with… people must comply with the curfew.”
He said the message to the taverns must be simple: Either comply or lose your licence. Mkhize added that if retailers allowed people without masks into their shops, they must be closed down. “The Disaster Management Act allows for us to be strong in the way we deal with this,” he said.
“We are very concerned about the Eastern Cape numbers,” he said.
“The daily increases are higher than what we saw during the surge in July and August.”
“This must be managed aggressively,” he added, “before it gets out of control. It is not inevitable that this wave can be suppressed. It has to subside. It has to be put down.
Mkhize said he was was also concerned about delays in health laboratories producing the results of Covid-tests. “We are having a discussion to increase capacity here. There must be no delays in turnaround times,” he said.
The Eastern Cape health department’s district manager for Nelson Mandela Bay, Darlene de Vos, said there are currently 4,991 active cases in the metro, with 437 new cases and 15 deaths being reported overnight.
The incidence risk for Nelson Mandela Bay is now 374/100,000 of the population and the mortality rate stands at 4.1%.
She said 166 health workers are currently in isolation.
“We are struggling to convince people to go into quarantine. We currently only have one site accommodating 11 people,” she said.
“Our hospitals are under severe strain. There are 275 patients in the field hospital (donated by Volkswagen).
“Our deaths are alarming. On a daily basis there are more than 10 deaths in our hospitals. On 15 November alone, there were 16 deaths,” she said.
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