As sales of booze spike worldwide during Covid-19 lockdown, should more be done to limit consumption?
By Tara Rippin
April 5, 2020
AS the nation is forced to stay indoors amid the coronavirus pandemic, it’s hardly surprising alcohol sales have soared, prompting some countries to ban buying booze completely amid fears of a spike in domestic violence and relaxed social distancing.
Social media is awash with images of trolleys stacked high with beer and other alcoholic beverages, as shoppers prepare for a lengthy lockdown.
Whether it is to battle the boredom or as a coping mechanism, the reality is alcohol consumption is on the rise, presenting its own health, psychological and social issues.
Some countries have gone so far as to ban the purchase of alcohol amid fears of a rise in domestic violence.
The World Health Organisation has dubbed drinking to deal with stress an “unhelpful coping strategy”, highlighting the fact alcohol is a toxic and psychoactive substance with dependence producing properties, and contributes to three million deaths each year globally.
Shoppers in Spain have been buying considerably more alcohol since the government declared State of Alarm. The sale of beer rose by 77.65 per cent this week compared to last week, while wine jumped by 62.7 per cent and alcoholic drinks by 36.58 per cent, according to a study in the consumer magazine Inforetail, supported by the Spanish Association of Distributors, Self-Service Stores and Supermarkets (Asedas).
The hike since the government announcement is believed to be because people are limited to the number of visits they can make to supermarkets, and therefore “over buy” each trip. There is also the issue of “what else are you going to do but have a drink?”
Experts claim social drinking patterns have changed totally, and the public is no longer confining a couple of glasses of wine to a weekend, it has become a small way “to disconnect”.
Monica, who works for Spanish supermarket chain, Mercadona, in the Costa del Sol, said: “Alcohol sales have gone up considerably, I don’t know if it is boredom, but people are definitely buying much more alcohol than before. The next biggest sellers are primary items, like milk, cheese, eggs and then junk food.”
Julián Ribalda, the director of the online wine store Lavinia, which is one of the largest in the sector, told El Pais, “we are seeing numbers as though it were Christmas”.
In the UK, while bars and restaurants remain closed, off licences and licensed shops selling alcohol are classed as essential, and online retail is being encouraged.
Last month, alcohol sales rose by 22 per cent in the UK as people stockpiled in anticipation of a lengthy lockdown – sales of groceries rose by 20.9 per cent in comparison.
Alcohol sales in the United States soared by 55 per cent in the third week of March, according to global data analysis firm Nielsen.
It claims sales of hard alcohol such as gin, and pre-mixed cocktails have been in particularly high demand, with a 75 per cent hike compared to March of last year.
Wine sales reportedly increased by 66 per cent, beer sales by 42 per cent, and online sales surged by a staggering 243 per cent as around 250 million Americans are under lockdown.
But some coutries have gone further and banned the sale of booze completely, such as South Africa, at the centre of the outbreak in Africa, which has also outlawed the export of alcohol and the purchase of tobacco. The risk of a rise in domestic violence has been cited in almost every case.
The government justified the move, claiming booze reduces a person’s ability to practice social distancing and good personal hygiene, can affect the immune system, meaning that those with already weak immune systems will make themselves more susceptible to disease.
It also said that an alcohol prohibition would “limit the possibility of an increase in incidents of domestic violence” and also reduce stress on the emergency services.
Within days of shutdown in Mexico, shoppers in cities and towns reportedly began beer hoarding after it was announced alcohol production was considered a ‘non-essential business’.
In the northern border state of Nuevo Leon and to the south in Tabasco state, governors have banned alcohol sales completely amid fears that with families under lockdown and under stress, alcohol consumption could lead to spikes in domestic violence. Other cities have limited the hours of when alcohol can be bought.
In Greenland, the capital Nuuk, has banned the buying of alcohol until April 15, with Local Health Minister, Martha Abelsen telling media “domestic violence had been on the rise in recent weeks” .
*Chief Medical Officers (CMOs) advise drinking no more than 14 units of alcohol a week, with unit guidelines now the same for men and women.
This equates to six pints of beer (four per cent volume) or six small glasses of wine, or 14 glasses (25 ml) of whisky.
It is advisable to spread consumption evenly and not “save up” units.