HomeResourcesGeneral resourcesSA’s lockdown liquor ban: All the spats and stats

SA’s lockdown liquor ban: All the spats and stats

Take a look back at all our reporting on the alcohol ban, whether it helped, and why it was necessary. 

South Africa banned the sale of alcohol early in its response to the coronavirus pandemic in a bid to open up hospital beds for potential COVID-19 patients. The country moves to alert level two of lockdown, starting at midnight on 17 August when the sale of liquor will be unbanned. Bhekisisa reported extensively on various aspects of South Africa’s existing alcohol regulations and the ban on sales during lockdown. This is a one-stop shop for all of that information. 

The latest: How you can buy alcohol during level two 

  • Liquor shops can sell alcohol from Monday to Thursday between 9am and 5pm.
  • You can have a drink at a restaurant, bar, or tavern until 10pm. 

Read the regulations here.

How bad is alcohol abuse in South Africa? 

How did the alcohol sales ban affect South Africa’s hospitals? 

  • In June, modelling by the South African Medical Research Council predicted the sales ban would open up nearly 10 000 beds that would have been filled with patients admitted for alcohol related injuries. These kinds of admissions dropped by 60%.
  • In the Western Cape, the level three lockdown alcohol ban slashed alcohol related trauma admissions by 40 and 50%, according to the Western Cape Health Department’s data.
  • When the alcohol sales ban was lifted in July, daily admissions to trauma centres in Western Cape hospitals shot up by 62%.
  • Deaths from trauma increased by more than 300% in the Eastern Cape in the month after the alcohol sales ban was temporarily lifted. 
  • Deaths from traffic accidents also increased by more than double when the sales ban was lifted in July. 
  • Trauma admissions to intensive care units also shot up by 350% in the Western Cape when the alcohol ban was lifted. 

Read the Western Cape’s report here.

[WATCH] Why South Africa banned alcohol under the COVID-19 lockdown

Why was the alcohol sales ban necessary in South Africa? 

  • South Africa is one of only a handful of countries to ban alcohol sales to fight COVID-19 (such as Spain, Kenya, and Hong Kong).
  • The country does not have the regulations in place to curb harmful alcohol use at a population level. 
  • In 2010, the government set up a special team to research the best way to tighten South Africa’s liquor legislation. That team came up with new legislation to foster responsible drinking in the country, but the new rules have not been signed into law. The proposed two pieces of legislation would severely restrict alcohol advertising and raise the drinking age to 21. 
  • Cabinet decided in 2010 to stop taking money from the liquor industry to help push through the new regulations, but at least five national and provincial departments are still taking the industry’s money. 
  • Why? Lobbying by various sectors including the alcohol and media industries and disputes among policymakers likely halted progress.

Read the full article here.

Expert tips for a more sober South Africa 

  • Lower the legal blood alcohol level for drivers to zero.
  • Mandatory testing of blood alcohol levels after car accidents. 
  • Ban the sale of alcohol in larger containers. 
  • Allow advertising of alcohol only in shops and online where liquor is sold. 
  • Publicly advertise helplines and psychological and medical care for people with alcohol use disorders. 

Read the full article here.

In case you missed it, here are two op-eds about South Africa’s dubious relationship with alcohol. 

Joan van Dyk was a health journalist, senior health journalist and news editor at Bhekisisa between 2017 and 2023.