A liquor store in Pretoria is closed during lockdown. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)
A liquor store in Pretoria is closed during lockdown. Picture: Oupa Mokoena/African News Agency (ANA)

Research shows alcohol ban reduces number of unnatural deaths

By Zelda Venter Time of article published Jul 6, 2021

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Pretoria - Research has shown that the complete banning of alcohol during the Covid-19 pandemic contributed to the reduction in the total number of unnatural deaths and alleviated the burden on the healthcare system.

This is according to a study, which looked at the effects of the alcohol restrictions and the curfew on the number of unnatural deaths in South Africa.

Researchers from the SA Medical Research Council and the University of Cape Town published new research in the South African Medical Journal, using data from January last year to mid-April this year.

It was sourced from the weekly mortality surveillance data, prepared by the university and the research council.

The study found that the impact on the weekly number of unnatural deaths is only statistically significant if the restriction of alcohol is complete.

It was found that the partial restrictions are largely ineffective in reducing the number of unnatural deaths.

It is stated in the journal that alcohol plays a significant role, both in traumatic injuries and their ultimate consequences, and that these deaths are high in South Africa by global standards.

The authors of the study, however, caution that complete restrictions are not a viable long-term solution to averting unnatural deaths.

According to them, the complete restrictions may diminish over time as a result of the re-imposition of restrictions often being anticipated, which result in the illicit supply of alcohol.

Lead author of the study Professor Tom Moultrie, director of UCT’s Centre for Actuarial Research, said the study showed that the weekly number of unnatural deaths was 49% lower than expected during the level 5 hard lockdown from March to May last year.

It was 26% lower than expected when the sale of alcohol was banned, together with curfews of between four and seven hours at a time.

“However, the study found no reduction in unnatural deaths when there were partial or no restrictions on the sale of alcohol.

“This is with the exception of the six-week period in June and July last year, following the end of level of the 5 lockdown,” Moultrie said.

He added that during that period when the sale of alcohol was restricted for off-site consumption and banned for on-site consumption, deaths were about 13% lower than expected.

The study’s conclusions note that while complete restrictions on the sale of alcohol might avert unnatural deaths and contribute to easing the overload on the healthcare system during the peaks of the pandemic, long-term implementation of this policy would have a significant impact on the economy.

The Southern African Alcohol Policy Alliance in SA earlier “cautiously welcomed” the ban on the sale of alcohol by the government in a bid to deal with the third wave of the pandemic.

The organisation said it supported the banning of on-site consumption, but was of the view that allowing people to buy alcohol for home consumption could have been effective in reducing the spread of the virus.

Allowing off-site consumption sales would also have limited the economic fallout and discouraged a return to the illicit trade in alcohol, it said.

The alcohol policy alliance said it would encourage the government to move cautiously in re-opening the alcohol trade later and suggested that, as a first step, the off-site consumption sale of alcohol, by all licensed outlets could be allowed, followed – at a later stage – by the slow easing of restrictions on on-site consumption sales.

“In this way, the country will avoid losing the benefit of the two-week ban, as a result of people rushing to return to on-site consumption outlets, and risking a new surge in infections,” it said.

Pretoria News

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