The large differences which occurred during South Africa's lockdown levels 5 and 4 were probably connected to fewer vehicles on the road. Picture: African News Agency
The large differences which occurred during South Africa's lockdown levels 5 and 4 were probably connected to fewer vehicles on the road. Picture: African News Agency

Researchers say lockdown booze ban reduced trauma cases by 18.7% at Cape hospital

By Sisonke Mlamla Time of article published Sep 7, 2021

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Cape Town - Researchers from UCT and Stellenbosch University (SU) have revealed that the booze ban during lockdown has reduced trauma cases by 18.7%.

According to their findings, fewer trauma cases were reported during lockdown levels with an alcohol ban in place compared to when alcohol sales were only restricted.

The researchers used data from all trauma-related patients presenting to the emergency centre of Mitchells Plain Hospital from March 1, 2020 to September 29, 2020 and corresponding periods during 2019 were drawn from an existing database.

Those findings, published in the African Journal of Emergency Medicine, suggested that alcohol sale bans may affect trauma in low- to middle-income areas, with a potential decrease in the total number of trauma cases and assaults.

Dr Clint Hendrikse of UCT’s Division of Emergency Medicine said a similar reduction also occurred in isolated Alaska Native-American villages, where an alcohol ban was associated with lower age-adjusted rates of serious injury from assault and motor vehicle crashes.

Hendrikse said the large differences which occurred during South Africa's lockdown levels 5 and 4 were probably linked to fewer vehicles on the road as the economy was mostly shut down, and social interaction was also strongly discouraged.

“A more true reflection of the effect of banning alcohol sales is seen during level 3, when an 18.7% reduction occurred when the alcohol ban was reinstated. This is close to the estimated 20% reduction in trauma cases foreseen by the national government," said Hendrikse.

He said a subsequent 41% increase when the ban was lifted further illustrated the effect of the alcohol sales ban.

"Although the lifting of the alcohol ban coincided with a move to lockdown level 2 with fewer restrictions, trauma-related cases returned to levels seen during 2019 and even in the month before the lockdown was implemented.”

Dr Niël van Hoving of SU’s Division of Emergency Medicine said the proportion of injured children also increased during periods when alcohol sales were banned.

Van Hoving said that was rather unexpected, as anecdotal evidence indicated that domestic violence cases and child neglect increased after alcohol sales were allowed under lockdown level 3.

He said the higher proportion could also relate to the imposed restrictions of the lockdown itself, as schools were closed for long periods.

"Although the exact reason behind the finding is most likely multifactorial, it could just be a result of fewer adults presenting to the emergency centre during these periods,” he said.

He added that on-site consumption of alcohol was only allowed under lockdown level 2, making it difficult to compare their results to other studies, which mostly evaluated the effect of restricting on-site consumption.

"Nonetheless, international data suggest that the restriction of trading hours tends to reduce alcohol-related injuries during the time of the restriction and shortly thereafter,” said Van Hoving.

Zoleka Lisa, vice-president of corporate affairs at the South African Breweries, said banning alcohol sales does not remove demand – instead it places the market in the hands of criminals, increasing illicit trade in alcohol.

Lisa said a total ban was unrealistic.

“There are solutions to our problems, and it does not have to jeopardise our economy and our people. The key is to engage with one another and work together to find an equitable solution,” she said.

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Cape Argus

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