Health Minister Zweli Mkhize says coronavirus cases increased significantly in South Africa when the alcohol ban was eased some weeks ago and this has necessitated a reintroduction of the measure.

He says there was a significant reduction in alcohol-related trauma cases at the country’s hospitals when the ban on sales was first introduced at the beginning of the lockdown in late March.

Mkhize was briefing the media in Pretoria.

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced on Sunday that the ban on the sale of alcohol would be reinstated with immediate effect.

Mkhize says projections show that the country could alleviate the pressure on hospitals by stopping thousands of alcohol-related trauma cases in only the first week of the alcohol ban.

“Now we are very concerned about the fact that the consumption of alcohol in the country is pretty high and its estimated that is 31% and of all, we are really saying is that we plead for understanding and patience as we try to navigate through a difficult time in the country.”

“This is one of the issues that we think at the end of the day it would be inexcusable to actually end up with beds blocked by something that’s completely preventable and avoidable, the consumption of alcohol, and end up with lives of people with a difficult viral infection being compromised.”

Earlier on Monday, Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma also defended the suspension of alcohol sales.

“When people are drinking in groups they let their guard down, their masks and social distancing will go. That is when the spread happens. We have seen it in many instances. It socially brings people together, discourages people from using masks, social distancing, sanitising. But more importantly, when people have taken liquor, they get drunk, indulge in irresponsible behaviour and some of them become violent.”

There are 276 242 confirmed coronavirus cases – of which around 135 000 have recovered. Over 4 000 people have died from COVID-19-related illnesses.

Gauteng is currently the epicentre of the virus followed by the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape.

Below is a provincial breakdown of COVID-19 cases in SA:

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SA to remain at Level 3

President Ramaphosa says despite huge concern about the escalation in coronavirus cases, the government has decided that the country will remain at Level 3 of the lockdown.

In the video below, the President urges citizens to take COVID-19 seriously and act responsibly:

A curfew from 21:00 to 04:00 is also now in force from Monday.

People will also now be legally obliged to wear a mask when they leave their homes.

As the coronavirus continues to spread, it is the responsibility of every South African to maintain vital social distancing and hygiene practices to keep themselves and others safe. pic.twitter.com/jUaNeQZxqs

— Presidency | South Africa 🇿🇦 (@PresidencyZA) July 12, 2020