No drinking
  • The National Coronavirus Command Council is today receiving submissions about the need for tighter lockdown rules as South Africa enters its third wave.
  • A longer curfew, and limits on gatherings, will likely be recommended.
  • A new halt on alcohol sales, or restrictions on when booze may be sold, will also likely be discussed – with the Department of Health saying there is evidence such measures would help.
  • Cabinet will ultimately decide on any new measures, and it is not clear when it may do so.
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At least a partial ban on alcohol is likely to come up at a meeting of the National Coronavirus Command Council on Tuesday, where government's top decision-makers will reportedly be urged to impose stricter lockdown measures.

Various sources told News24 that the Ministerial Advisory Committee – alarmed by rising coronavirus infection numbers – will push for limits that may include restrictions on gatherings and a longer curfew.

The committee will also hear from the department of health, which is also concerned about the ability of the healthcare system to handle a new surge in Covid-19 cases.

Those involved have not been willing to speak about their specific submissions, and the ultimate decision on changes to lockdown rules will be made with cabinet, which is tasked with considering the economic impact too, in what President Cyril Ramaphosa has described as caring for livelihoods as well as lives.

But the health department, at least, will certainly not be arguing against alcohol restrictions.

"There's evidence that if we restrict the sale and public consumption of alcohol, we will enable our health system to have sufficient beds to treat those who are critically ill due to Covid-19," department spokesperson Popo Maja told The Citizen, in one of the clearest indications of its current stance. 

Various parts of the alcohol industry have disputed that assessment, arguing that a reduction in trauma cases at hospitals during previous bans could be attributed to curfew rather than restrictions on booze sales for home consumption.

See also | SA’s last thousand doses of J&J Sisonke vaccine will go to rugby and Olympic stars this week

Both alcohol and cigarette suppliers have pre-emptively lobbied against new restrictions, with little immediately apparent success. Weighing against such efforts is the likes of a recent study that suggested total alcohol bans were more effective than partial ones at freeing up hospital resources, and concern that the significant diversion of resources to the vaccination effort will leave the health system more ill prepared than at any time since the start of the pandemic.

The government has promised to activate no fewer than 3,300 vaccine sites, each of which will require administrative and nursing staff, as it seeks to massively ramp up vaccine delivery to the general population.

It is not yet clear when cabinet may meet to consider the recommendations, if any, of the National Coronavirus Command Council, but in past instances one meeting has rapidly followed on the other.

(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)

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