Health system cannot afford alcohol frenzy

Long queues formed outside liquor outlets when the ban on liquor sales was lifted on June 1
Long queues formed outside liquor outlets when the ban on liquor sales was lifted on June 1
Image: Werner Hills

Eastern Cape premier Oscar Mabuyane confirmed on Monday that Bhisho was writing to the national government, seeking approval of its request to reimpose the ban on the sale of alcohol in the Eastern Cape.

Mabuyane’s request came barely a week after the resumption of liquor sales, which were outlawed under the national coronavirus lockdown on March 27.

It is hard to fault the premier’s position. One needs only look at the headlines over the past week — “Nightmare at hospitals as alcohol takes its tollbeing just one of them — to see that he has a point.

Beyond that headline is the experience of health professionals who have had to deal with the inevitable consequences of the unbanning of liquor sales.

One of them, Tygerberg Hospital’s head of surgery and the trauma unit, professor Elmin Steyn, said the effects of excessive alcohol consumption combined with an influx of Covid-19 cases had “massively” reduced access to medical care for other people.

“We have seen an explosion in stabbings, accidents and assaults. It’s a nightmare. All are linked to unbanning alcohol,” the specialist said.

Then, on Monday, we read how large crowds of unruly teenagers drinking in public in Nelson Mandela Bay had caused a big headache for police, who had to resort to firing stun grenades to break up a street party.

Such behaviour poses a double threat.

First, there is an increased risk of infection due to the large numbers of people gathered —  and let’s be frank, people under the influence are less likely to adhere to measures meant to protect them.

There is also a greater risk of those needing to be admitted to hospital because of the consequences of drunken behaviour —  fights, accidents and so on.

The link between the unbanning of alcohol sales and the increase in dangerous behaviour is indisputable.

For people who still fail to understand — who think that the banning of alcohol sales was simply a measure by the government to deny them their right to drink and be merry —  we need to remind ourselves of the reason for the ban.

Its sole purpose  — and that of the lockdown in general  —  was to allow the health system time to prepare for the inevitable onslaught of Covid-19 patients.

So, until people who abuse alcohol can consume it responsibly, a sober mind is needed to take action on behalf all those who will need to be admitted to hospital because of Covid-19 in the coming weeks.

We simply cannot afford an extra — and unnecessary — burden to be placed on our already stretched health system.