South Africa now has 408 052 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 6 093 deaths.
When you factor in the 236 260 recoveries, that means we have 165 699 active cases.
Of course, as we can see by the spike in excess deaths during the pandemic, the real death toll is likely to be far higher, and South Africa has the fifth-highest number of active cases of any country.
I state these numbers to illustrate just how dire our situation is, and how we need to take extreme measures to both curb the spread of the pandemic, and ease the strain being placed on healthcare workers and facilities across the country.
The fact of the matter is, to put it bluntly, we are a country that cannot handle our liquor, and hospitals around the country report a drop in the admission of trauma cases during times in which the sale of alcohol is banned.
In the same vein, the country deserves to know exactly how and why decisions like the alcohol ban are taken, and what data is behind them, which is something that Professor Francois Venter says is sorely lacking.
He is well placed to comment on these matters, given that he is a member of the COVID-19 ministerial advisory committee (MAC), as well as the head of the Ezintsha Health Unit at the University of the Witwatersrand.
Earlier this week, Venter spoke about the government’s decision to ban the sale of alcohol, reports TimesLIVE:
Venter said the government’s decision to ban liquor sales, among other things, and claiming that it was advised by scientists to do so was “frustrating”. He said the liquor ban was discussed under level 3 lockdown and there were no discussions before then, at levels 4 and 5.
“The alcohol sales ban was discussed under level 3 and that was the first time we discussed it. The previous bans and the whole range of the aspects of the lockdown, I am not sure where those decisions came from,” said Venter [below].
“The government keeps saying scientists are the ones making these decisions and that is part of our frustration … It would be good to know who these scientists are and what their reasoning is, so we can interrogate it and understand the reasoning. This whole process has been incredibly mysterious.”
This isn’t the first time Venter has raised concerns about the decisionmaking processes of the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC), both with regards to the alcohol sales ban, and the decision to allow taxis to travel at maximum capacity.
Setting aside the crippling impact the ban has on the food and beverage sector, as well as the hospitality industry, what’s concerning is the almost ‘cloak and daggers’ approach by the NCCC when it comes to making data public.
Last night’s announcement that public schools will be closed for four weeks has also been rebuked by top scientists advising the MAC, who say that the government has caved in to pressure from the unions.
The ban on the sale of alcohol reduces trauma cases in hospitals, but why are we being kept in the dark about so much?
…the scientists have been pleading with the government to share more than 70 Covid-19 advisories and data with the public because there was no reason not to do so.
Health minister allegedly Zweli Mkhize refused, however, saying data does not represent the government’s final position on the issues that have been covered.
The advisories cover issues such as alcohol restrictions, measures to reduce coronavirus transmission in public transport, and testing.
Mkhize has alluded to the fact that the data is being withheld to avoid panic (another example of the government treating us like children), but Venter doesn’t agree with that, adding that the lack of transparency is creating confusion.
I would go a step further and say it’s creating disregard for lockdown regulations, and it doesn’t help when we have a president that refuses to hold a single media briefing.
Instead, we listen to the odd 8PM address, with the same hollow promises about serving the people and rooting out corruption, before President Ramaphosa retreats from the public eye once more.
As more and more businesses shutter their windows, and experts warn that South Africa could lose 90% of its wine producers if the ban remains in place for another six to eight weeks (which appears likely), any and all data informing decisions as important as these should be made available.
The tobacco sales ban has proven that any void of data and information will be immediately be filled with allegations of criminality – and with good reason – so now is the time for cards to be laid on the table.
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