President Cyril Ramaphosa's announcement to reinstate a ban on alcohol sales in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic is reflective of an increased number of trauma cases seen in hospitals.
"It's a decision that I don't think he's taken lightly. It's a decision that was reflective of what we have been seeing in the last few days. Unfortunately if you look at the various levels of lockdown under level 5, our trauma units were nice and quiet. Under level 4, it was around 20% of the user volumes to about 40%," Professor Steve Moeng said on Monday.
Moeng, who is head of trauma at Gauteng's Charlotte Maxeke Hospital, spoke to SAnews following the President's announcement of the immediate suspension of the sale, dispensing and distribution of alcohol during a televised address on Sunday night.
In his weekly newsletter on Monday, the President said there is clear evidence that the resumption of alcohol sales has resulted in substantial pressure being put on hospitals, including trauma and ICU units, due to motor vehicle accidents, violence and related trauma.
"We have therefore decided that in order to conserve hospital capacity, the sale, dispensing and distribution of alcohol will be suspended with immediate effect," he said in the newsletter.
Moeng said that since the country moved to level 3 of the lockdown on 1 June, hospitals have seen more trauma cases.
"Usually when it's cold, trauma goes down, but unfortunately we have seen higher numbers. Unfortunately, that has had a negative impact in terms of our ability to deal with the COVID-19 load in our hospitals," he said.
Moeng, who is also the academic head of trauma at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), said a hospital's response to COVID-19 is put under pressure when the trauma load increases.
"Unfortunately it reduces that capacity for us to deal with other emergencies. Remember at the same time it's the flu season and I understand why he may have found it worthwhile to sit down and see whether we can reduce the trauma load again. Unfortunately in this country the trauma that we see is related to alcohol," said Moeng.
The Professor welcomed the decision announced by the President, saying it will afford hospitals time to pay more attention to COVID-19 which to date has affected at least 276 242 people in the country.
"From the health point of view, we would welcome this, it can help us to reduce and give us an opportunity to be able to pay more attention to COVID-19 again as those numbers are going higher and higher."
He said there is a need to re-evaluate society's relationship with alcohol.
"I think as a society at some stage we need to deal with the reality of that we have a problem when it comes to being able to manage responsibility of the alcohol component. We are further adding salt onto this wound from COVID-19.
"We have looked and combined our stats for different hospitals. So it would include Chris Hani Baragwaneth and Helen Joseph Hospital, a number of the same patterns have been seen in different institutions. All of them making us aware that they are seeing more and more trauma cases," he said.
In the newsletter, President Ramaphosa said measures taken by government, including the reintroduction of a curfew between 9pm and 4am are necessary.
"We are taking these measures fully aware that they impose unwelcome restrictions on people's lives. They are, however, necessary to see us through the peak of the disease. There is no way that we can avoid the Coronavirus storm. But we can limit the damage that it can cause to our lives," said the President.