#Covid19 hotspots: Decision expected on booze, curfew rules

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South Africa is experiencing a resurgence of coronavirus infections, leading the government to discuss district-based restrictions which could impact regions regarded as Covid-19 hotspots.

With the busy festive period looming, concerns around increased activity in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape have emboldened calls for local lockdowns.

Western Cape Premier Alan Winde, who has noted a 73% increase in infections in the Cape Town metro and a 117% surge along the Garden Route, says that local government is exploring the potential of a localised lockdown but only as a last resort.

Thsonono Buyeye, the Acting Mayor of Nelson Mandela Bay, which has close to 4,000 active cases, has petitioned the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) to enforce stricter district-based restrictions.

“Stricter restrictions are needed in the City and we have submitted all our inputs to the Health Minister Zweli Mkhize and other stakeholders last week,” said Buyeye. “If we don’t curb the infections in the City, the virus will spread uncontrollably across the country and we do not want that.”

As reported by News24, Mkhize was expected to table these proposals during an urgent NCCC meeting on Tuesday 1 December. The NCCC, tasked with developing risk-adjusted regulations via the Disaster Management Act, will deliberate on introducing an extended curfew and limiting social gatherings.

Chief among the list of concerns, according to sources close to the matter, is the sale of alcohol and its impact on strained health services in hotspots. The NCCC previously reintroduced the alcohol ban as a means of preserving hospital beds for Covid-19 patients, arguing that a spike in alcohol-related trauma cases had piled pressure onto healthcare staff and resources.

While a decision regarding the return of stringent restrictions is due to be finalised by the end of the NCCC meeting, sources say that government is against using the term “lockdown” to label hotspot regulations. The NCCC is also expected to receive pushback from the Economic Cluster, led by Finance Minister Tito Mboweni, who has detailed lockdown’s devastating socio-economic impact.

Both Buyeye and City of Cape Town officials have recently noted a rise in alcohol-related incidents, pointing to the approaching festive season as a serious cause for concern.

On 30 November, the City of Cape Town’s Mayoral Committee Member for Safety and Security, JP Smith, commented on the previous week’s law enforcement operations which netted 98 motorists. Smith condemned the scourge of drunk driving, noting that 80% of arrests made were alcohol-related.

“I’ve no doubt that our EMS colleagues could attest to the many alcohol-related trauma cases that they deal with on a daily basis, but particularly over weekends,” said Smith. “With the current Covid-19 resurgence, our healthcare system needs all the help it can get.”

Buyeye has highlighted gatherings at taverns and pubs as super-spreader events. The Eastern Cape government, which recently met with stakeholders in the alcohol industry, have deployed 80 community patrollers to ensure compliance in hotspots.

“We get videos and pictures of irresponsible social gatherings of young people having parties in places such as Zwide and Motherwell and we are extremely worried because we really believe we have done everything we could do to educate residents about the seriousness of our situation,” said Buyeye.

Nelson Mandela Bay Disaster Management Chairperson, Shane Brown, has urged the NCCC to consider stricter restrictions as hospitals reach full capacity. “Private hospitals have reached maximum capacity for Covid-19 treatment and while the public hospitals and the field hospital have capacity, there is not enough staff to treat patients due to the same virus and other work-related challenges,” said Brown.

Municipal officials add that the unrestricted supply of alcohol, which is closely linked with non-compliance concerning the current 00:00 to 04:00 curfew, will continue to strain health resources.

OFM News