On Monday, South African president Cyril Ramaphosa reimposed a national ban on alcohol sales, while also closing down all bars, in an effort to combat a spike in the spread of COVID (with that spike also reportedly involving a new strain). The country had attempted to find a middle ground earlier in December by limiting alcohol sales to select hours from Monday through Thursday, but obviously this most recent action is more forceful. 

The AP reports that Ramaphosa has also shut down beaches and public swimming pools that reside in the nation's virus hotspots, while extending a nightly curfew by four hours, from (the former) 11 p.m. - 4 a.m. to (the now) 9 p.m. - 6 a.m. 

The justification for the alcohol ban, according to Ramaphosa, is that drunken behavior has led to an increase in virus transmissions, while also saying that other problems caused by alcohol have put added pressure on already burdened hospitals.

“Reckless behavior due to alcohol intoxication has contributed to increased transmission. Alcohol-related accidents and violence are putting pressure on our hospital emergency units,” he said in a nationwide address. “As we had to in the early days of the lockdown, we now have to flatten the curve to protect the capacity of our healthcare system to enable it to respond effectively to this new wave of infections." 

Other implementations intended to combat COVID include mandatory mask wearing for those out in public, with the possibility of fines and even a jail sentence for those in violation. 

Ramaphosa said all this was necessary due to a bump in confirmed virus cases that has pushed the country past an overall total of 1 million. In his address, he says a surge of new cases has been reported in just the past few days. 

“Nearly 27,000 South Africans are known to have died from COVID-19. The number of new coronavirus infections is climbing at an unprecedented rate,” Ramaphosa continued. “More than 50,000 new cases have been reported since Christmas Eve.”

He added that relaxation of the batch of renewed measures would be examined if or when new cases and hospitalizations went down. 

As of Sunday night there had been 1,004,413 confirmed cases of COVID (with 26,735 deaths) in the country. 

Recent reports also indicate that South Africa, like England, has had an outbreak of a new strain that (at the moment) is believed to be more infectious. 

The AP adds that the South African Medical Association sent out a warning on Monday that claimed the health system was on the edge of being flooded by a combo of COVID-positive patients and people who were seeking urgent medical care due to alcohol-related incidents, the latter of which may be driven by holiday gatherings where lots of alcohol is being consumed. 

“To alleviate the pressure on the system during this time of the year, where we only have skeleton staff working, especially in the public sector, as well as in the private sector, we are asking for stricter restrictions regarding social gatherings,” said a chairwoman of the nation's medical association to the AP. “South Africa has got a history of very high alcohol abuse and binge drinking, especially over the weekends. In certain areas that leads to a lot of trauma cases, assaults, motor vehicle accidents and domestic violence."

During a two-month alcohol ban imposed by the nation earlier this year, trauma cases in hospitals reduced by up to 60 percent. When alcohol went back on sale, those trauma cases levels went up to their previous rates.