The South African government introduced a series of temporary alcohol sales bans in 2020 and 2021, as coronavirus counter-measures. These bans were to reduce alcohol availability. It has been clear that alcohol interacts lethally with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The measures taken by the South African government were backed by science and the World Health Organization recommendation to reduce access to alcohol during lockdowns.
Alcohol policy solutions play an important role in protecting citizen’s health. A ground-breaking report illustrated the lethal interaction between alcohol industry products and practices with the coronavirus pandemic.
- Alcohol products increase health and societal problems arising from the pandemic. For example, alcohol weakens the immune system and makes people more susceptible to coronavirus infections. And alcohol-centric social contexts have often become COVID-19 super spreader events.
- Alcohol products increase the burden on healthcare and emergency services which are already stretched due to the pandemic.
- The alcohol industry exploits the pandemic to change alcohol laws to their benefit such as through weakening delivery and take away laws.
Despite the Big Alcohol opposition and aggressive lobbying against the temporary alcohol sales bans, they were widely successful in easing the pressure on South African healthcare and emergency services.
The effectiveness of the bans were proven in a research study analyzing the trauma case volume from Worcester Regional Hospital in South Africa. The results showed:
- There was a 59% to 69% decrease in trauma volume between the no ban and the temporary alcohol sales ban 1 periods.
- Trauma volume dropped again by 39% to 46% with the temporary alcohol sales ban 2.
- Partial bans of alcohol sales were not effective in reducing trauma volumes.
Apart from the drop in trauma cases in hospitals, South African police saw a reduction in violence, crime and violent deaths when the temporary alcohol sales bans were introduced.
Increasing alcohol availability has led to an increase in crime, as per crime statistics for the first quarter of 2021/2022. The crimes which recorded a double digit increase, according to Police Minister Bheki Cele, were:
- Contact sexual offences, by 20%,
- Sexual assault, by 13.9%, and
- Attempted sexual offences, by 13.2%.
The dramatic increase from last year was because we compared this year’s statistics to a period of exceptionally low crime, because everyone was at home and unable to buy booze,” said Anine Kriegler, crime statistic and drug policy researcher, as per The Citizen.
We are mostly seeing a return to the trends seen before the lockdown. Those trends are due to different factors for different crime types. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see an increase in various crime rates over the next few years, because of the economic impact of Covid.”
Anine Kriegler, crime statistic and drug policy researcher
The success of the temporary alcohol sales bans demonstrates the importance of lowering alcohol availability for saving lives and improving the health of all South Africans. More long-term and comprehensive alcohol policy solutions have even bigger potential and are necessary to achieve this goal. The Draft Liquor Amendment Bill from 2017 covers several important alcohol policies for South Africa.