Health minister Dr Zweli MKhize says government’s prohibition on the sale of alcohol and tobacco products in South Africa will continue for as long as Covid-19 infection numbers remain high.
Mkhize told EWN that there were clear health benefits to introducing and continuing with the bans – including the freeing up of hospital beds.
“Our focus as the health department is about the health of the nation. Therefore, where we think that certain practices will compromise the health of our people, we will not hesitate to stand on the side of health.
“When we deal with these issues, we take a view based on the situation on the ground – and when things change, and we think it will be safe to ease off on things, we will certainly do that.”
Speaking specifically on the suspension of alcohol sales, Mkhize said that statistics clearly show that alcohol-related trauma cases had led to an increase in hospital cases and a loss of beds.
He added that more work still needed to be done before alcohol and cigarette sales were allowed again.
“Everything else will open up when the numbers settle down. We shouldn’t really be dealing with it as though there is a contest. We are not contesting anything.
“We just want to make it clear that if something is going to disturb the ease with which we are managing beds, patient numbers, and improving care, we will actually stand up and say that these things should be avoided until we are over the hump.”
He noted that the country was currently going through a surge in coronavirus cases, and that it was difficult to guess what is going to happen. He also disagreed with claims that the ban had served its purpose.
“Our position is very simple. When we see that the numbers are improving and the need and pressure for beds is not so threatening to the lives of our people, we’ll reconsider this. We haven’t come to that point yet.”
On 12 July, president Cyril Ramaphosa imposed a second ban on alcohol sales, as a result of a spike in alcohol-related trauma incidents.
“In the midst of our national effort to fight against this virus there are a number of people who have taken to organising parties, who have drinking sprees, and some who walk around in crowded spaces without masks,” he said at the time.
The sale of tobacco products, including cigarettes, has been prohibited since the country first introduced a lockdown on 27 March.
The ban has been in place to protect the health of South Africans, according to submissions from the government, and cigarette producers have failed to convince the country’s courts that the sale of tobacco products is a necessity.