South Africa successfully implemented four temporary alcohol sales bans with the aim of reducing the alcohol burden on hospitals and healthcare services during the COVID-19 pandemic. For 164 days in total there were no alcohol sales.
Now, as the country has moved to lockdown level 1, the temporary alcohol sales ban has been lifted. And near immediately, hospitals in the Western Cape region are reporting a spike in trauma cases. Experts say it is because of increased alcohol availability. In the second week of October, over 600 trauma cases were recorded in a single day. This was the highest so far in 2021.
Similar situations of a spike in trauma cases in hospitals were reported previously, too, each time the temporary alcohol sales bans were lifted. The situation in hospitals after lifting the first ban back in June, 2020 was likened to a nightmare.
As Movendi International reported, not only hospital trauma cases but crime rates increased when alcohol was made more available following lockdown relaxation. As per crime statistics of the first quarter for 2021/2022, the following major crimes increased by double digits after lifting of the temporary alcohol sales ban:
- Contact sexual offences, by 20%,
- Sexual assault, by 13.9%, and
- Attempted sexual offences, by 13.2%.
Success of the temporary alcohol sales bans in South Africa
The success of the temporary alcohol sales bans was documented in research 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 alcohol sales ban 1 periods.
- Trauma volume dropped again by 39 to 46% with alcohol sales ban 2.
- Partial bans of alcohol sales were not effective in reducing trauma volumes.
Professor Steve Reid, Head of the Directorate of Primary Health Care at the University of Cape Town shared a few key indicators of success of the temporary alcohol sales bans:
- The bans have effectively reduced the pressure on the healthcare system, including front line health care workers.
- This was particularly true over the New Year. Normally trauma units were full over the New Year due to injuries and accidents caused by the products and practices of the alcohol industry. The alcohol sales bans greatly reduced this burden.
- Fewer people died of alcohol-related trauma during the temporary alcohol sales bans, according to a study conducted during the first temporary alcohol sales ban.
- The results were reconfirmed during the second temporary alcohol sales ban.
Apart from reducing the burden on hospitals the temporary alcohol sales ban led to a reduction in crime and violence in the country.
Long-term alcohol policy solutions needed to reduce the harm caused by alcohol industry products and practices on South African citizens
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 2016 covers several important alcohol policies for South Africa. These policy solutions include:
- Increasing the legal age for alcohol purchase to 21 years;
- The introduction of a 100-metre radius limitation of alcohol trade around educational and religious institutions;
- Banning of any alcohol sales and advertising on social and small media; and
- The introduction of a new liability clause for alcohol sellers.
The bill has wide political and community support. Unfortunately Big Alcohol interference and pressure has delayed and derailed its adoption.