Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said on Tuesday that the suspension of alcohol sales has helped in the fight against Covid-19.
While he said he was “not at the point” of making recommendations to either continue or lift the ban, Mkhize said the prohibition on sales and distribution had eased the pressure on health facilities — and has also saved health workers from the abuse that he said they sometimes endure from drunk patients.
“It’s most frustrating and actually disheartening when you’ve got people who are sick, then you have people who are not only avoidable in the causation of their accidents but some of them are abusive and rude to health workers,” Mkhize said.
He was speaking at the Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital in Johannesburg on Tuesday, where he was conducting an oversight visit after reports of hospitals in Gauteng experiencing a high number of patients and in, certain instances, not coping.
Mkhize said the irresponsible consumption of alcohol tended to create unnecessary and avoidable accidents — which then put pressure on health-care workers and facilities.
He said that in the case of Charlotte Maxeke, and all other hospitals in the country, the suspension of the sale of alcohol gave health workers a breather — and allowed them to give their full attention to Covid-19 cases.
“They have seen a huge reduction in the acute trauma in emergencies, stab wounds, gun shot wounds, motor vehicle accidents, and large taxi accidents, where you’ve got a number of people killed at the same time,” Mkhize said.
Earlier, the head of the emergency unit at the hospital, Prof Feroza Motara, who said she has been working for the health department for more than three decades, told the minister that they had no trauma cases for the first time in years on New Year’s Day.
“Because the surge was happening simultaneously, it enabled us to redirect resources. By resources, I mean more bodies; more doctors, more nurses. It enabled us to treat those [Covid-19] patients. It created more capacity because, over this period, our emergency units are usually overrun,” Motara said.
Mkhize said that with the pressure on health workers, the alcohol sales ban was necessary.
“We are not sitting here saying people must never drink alcohol. We are saying [that] the suspension of alcohol has had the desired effect of reducing pressure on health workers, to the extent that they are now able to attend to a surge of unpredictable numbers. If we’re still facing the surge, we’d like to see that our focus goes to unavoidable problems such as the infection, rather than to the avoidable situations that alcohol brings.
“We’re not at the point where we’re making any recommendation, so I cannot comment on what our recommendation will be [about alcohol restrictions] … but we’re watching these infection numbers. The numbers are improving but we’re not anywhere near where we can say that things are fine. We’re not,” he said.