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Mkhize: the COVID-19 surge is still on its way

The minister says we need to be prepared, and that even members of the public support the alcohol ban by government.

Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize. Picture: GCIS.

JOHANNESBURG - Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said on Monday a surge in COVID-19 infections is coming - and it could be higher if government did not tighten lockdown restrictions.

Mkhize led the social cluster briefing on the tightened regulations under level 3 of the lockdown as announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa on Sunday night.

Earlier, the National COVID-19 Command Council briefed the media on the new regulations, which included a ban on alcohol sales and a curfew.

Mkhize again appealed to South Africans to act responsibly, saying controlling the virus was entirely up to their behavior.

Mkhize added that while the initial lockdown did not prevent a surge in cases, it did manage to limit its severity.

"It's not inevitable that whatever was predicted is actually what's going to happen, and so we can have the surge at a lower level even though the peak is now. But it may not necessarily be at the worst, pessimistic scenario."

Mkhize has also touched on the contentious issue of taxis accepting that social distancing would be hard to achieve.

"But that is an ideal situation that doesn't exist in the taxis, so we begin to see the need to put in mitigating steps to try and assist in that situation."

Support for no-booze rule

Speaking on the new rules to ban the sale and distribution of alcohol, Mkhize said that many South Africans welcomed and supported decision.

A number of alcohol traders have expressed concern about the ban. But the minister said government received support.

He added that government was seriously concerned about alcohol consumption.

"We're one of the countries that drinks the most, and in the WHO Afro region, at 64.6 grams of absolute alcohol per capita per day, that's about five or six standard drinks of 12 grams of absolute alcohol. That's about 15ml per day. In other countries it's 14 grams per drinker, per day. That's a matter of concern."

Mkhize said alcohol-related trauma patients were stretching hospital resources.

“Over six out of 10 of drinkers over the age of 15 in South Africa are reported to engage in what is called binge drinking - that's high episodic drinking,” he said.

"In some instances, when you deal with someone who's got a stabbed heart, literally everything freezes, and everybody will run into theatre, even without being fully scrubbed. That's the nature of the disruption that comes with the level of emergency crated by the trauma," Mkhize said.

Mkhize also added that the only way to completely stop the rising tide of the COVID-19 pandemic was through personal behavioural changes. He said evidence showed that self-isolation or quarantine of infected people remains the best way to contain the spread of COVID-19.

Mkhize said the lockdown worked to slow infections, but it was important that people adhere to regulations to help fight the virus, adding that the spread of COVID-19 will only be stopped when people don’t move around unnecessarily and adhere to lockdown regulations.

“So these are some of the issues that we are going to put in place - drivers and conductors should complete a daily symptom check before being allowed to go into the taxi. We need to make sure drivers and conductors should be free of symptoms as they take the taxis,” he said.

Mkhize said the severity of the anticipated surge in cases would depend on the behaviour of indivduals.