South Africa has used intermittent alcohol prohibitions and restrictions as a strategy to relieve hospitals of alcohol-related trauma cases and spare services for COVID-19 caseloads. Alcohol regulation is highly contested and involves a diverse range of actors who influence policies to align with their interests. This study sought to examine the strategies used by these actors to shape the COVID-19 related alcohol regulation in South Africa as presented by online news media. We found that the voice of pro-regulation actors is smaller and fragmented compared to opponents of the regulation as each actor seeks to advance their own interests. Despite the regulations initially being framed as a COVID-19 public health measure, pro-regulation government ministries, such as police and transport, perceive the regulations as a way of reducing existing (pre-pandemic) alcohol-related harm, such as crime, road-traffic injuries, and gender-based violence. The pre-existing failures in the alcohol regulatory environment and the current policy momentum created by COVID-19 could present an opportunity to retain components of the new laws and improve alcohol regulation in South Africa. However, there is a dominant and cohesive alcohol industry voice that strongly opposes the regulations, citing economic impacts, illicit trade and lack of evidence on the positive effects of the alcohol bans. Strategies employed by industry include lobbying, framing, and litigation. The regulations implemented under the guise of COVID-19 prevention have presented valuable lessons for alcohol regulation more generally. However, whether these regulations translate to sustainable policy changes will depend upon how and if the strong industry voice is countered.
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