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Harsher lockdown restrictions loom as Covid-19 infections put a strain on health-care facilities

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“We must warn South Africans that we will need to review the current restrictions and consider further measures.”

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said the government would assess the situation and make a decision: “We must warn South Africans that we will need to review the current restrictions and consider further measures.” File image. Picture: fernando zhiminaicela from Pixabay

Cape Town – South Africa has breached the one million mark for Covid-19 infections igniting calls from health authorities for government to implement harsher lockdown restrictions as health-care facilities are stretched.

Government insiders have already confirmed that President Cyril Ramaphosa has called an urgent meeting with the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) to discuss the exponential rise in infections which have left public and private hospitals under severe pressure.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said the government would assess the entire country and make a decision on whether to implement further containment measures and restrictions.

“We must warn South Africans that we will need to review the current restrictions and consider further measures to ensure that we curb this alarming rate of spread.

“Therefore, it will be important for us to evaluate the situation in these provinces, identify hot spots in these areas (and in other provinces where they may be identified) and make recommendations based on these findings and the outcomes of what has been implemented in the hot spots that have been identified so far,” he said.

Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA (Denosa) acting general secretary Cassim Lekhoathi said: “This second wave is very disturbing and we are not prepared for it. The strain is causing trauma and stress with our health workers.

“It is crucial that we impose stringent measures to curb the outbreak. Our nurses are severely overworked and we cannot afford to have our health system in a critical state. We must not put profit above the lives of people.”

Western Cape Health Department spokesperson Mark van der Heever said: “Public hospitals in the Western Cape are currently under severe pressure due to a sharp increase in Covid-19 admissions and the increase in non-Covid-19 trauma cases, such as alcohol-related injuries and road accidents.”

A major concern for health workers in particular is that some hospitals are facing a dire oxygen shortage, another issue is hospital beds. South Africa has seen a record spike in Covid-19 cases with more than 42 000 infections picked up in the last three days.

SA Medical Research Council (SAMRC) chief executive Glenda Gray said: “We have a very fragile health system and in December hospitals have had to deal with drinking and trauma cases.

“The objective approach to the situation is to stick to the curfew and monitor alcohol consumption. The second approach would be to stop large gatherings such as parties, churches, pubs. The rest of the world is struggling to contain the spread and we cannot expect South Africa to get it right.”

Already, the speculation of stringent lockdown restrictions has left alcohol groups worried. On Sunday Liquor traders pleaded with the government to be allowed to continue the off-premises sale of alcohol as the country navigates the second wave.

Liquor Traders Formations convener Lucky Ntimane said: “We do not think that a total ban on alcohol sales will be a solution either in the short or long term in arresting the resurgence and up-tick in the number of positive cases for Covid-19.

“A total shut-down of liquor sales would mean an end to the tavern market and the 250 000 direct jobs linked to the sector,” said Ntimane.

South African Breweries (SAB) in a statement said: “To this effect SAB does not believe that an outright ban / total shut down of alcohol sales is a sustainable approach, as seen with the last two bans. The unintended consequences of such actions are dire, from job losses, tax losses, illicit trading and looting of alcohol stores.”

Cape Argus