Governments Taking A Stand on Drinking During Lockdown
Is alcohol consumption an essential during COVID-19?
By Sandeep Dhanoa
April 7, 2020
There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a drink or two at home after a long day at work. But what about drinking during lockdown? As we spend our days stuck within four walls, should a glass of wine or a homemade cocktail be a reward for being a law-abiding citizen?
Alcohol and COVID-19: A brewery’s dream or a government’s nightmare?
The debate around alcohol and the COVID-19 pandemic centres on issues of health, economy and whether for some, a glass of wine may indeed help cope with the stress of seeing their lives turned upside-down in the space of weeks. So how are countries around the world coping with the crisis and the consumption of alcohol?
Police in South Africa are brutally enforcing a ban on all alcohol sales during the nationwide shutdown, in a bid to curb drinking during lockdown. However, in North America and much of Europe, alcohol stores remain open as these outlets are often protected under the same regulations that allow businesses like supermarkets or pharmacies to operate.
In Canada – where there’s yet to be an official lockdown – politician Francois Legault justified the decision to keep alcohol sales flowing. “To reduce the stress, you have to do some exercise, so have a walk – but sometimes a glass of wine may help,” he said. Catherine Paradis, an analyst at the Canadian Center on Addictions and Substance Use added that “everyone feels like it is Friday or Saturday all the time”.
Similarly, New York has also placed wine and spirits stores on the list of “essential” businesses. The New York State Liquor Stores Association confirms that sales have increased significantly. “In a way, we are helping the economy,” president Stefan Kalogridis told AFP.
Interestingly, Belarusian president Alexander Lukashenko has a bizarre theory about the coronavirus. He advised that drinking a 100ml of vodka and going to the traditional sauna, or banya, “two or three times a week will do you good.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lum has banned all restaurants and bars from serving alcohol, because easy access to alcohol could lead to the failure of social distancing. “Sometimes people get a bit intimate when they are drunk, and this will raise the risk of infection,” she said.
Drinking during lockdown in Malaysia
Malaysia too has taken measures to limit the supply of alcohol during the Movement Control Order (MCO). On 24 March, Heineken Malaysia Bhd suspended operations of its brewery in Petaling Jaya due to the MCO. But on 5 April, it obtained approval from the Domestic Trade and Consumer Affairs Ministry to resume limited operations.
The letter that was sent by the ministry to Heineken agreed that the alcoholic drinks manufacturer is a food supply operator, therefore allowing it to operate during the MCO. In a bid to maintain a continuous supply of its products, the brewery only needed a minimal number of essential workers, which was less than 10% of its workforce.
The Malaysian government then made a drastic U-turn and revoked its decision to allow Heineken and Carlsberg Brewery Malaysia Bhd to continue their operations during the MCO. Senior Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob said the decision was made during a special Cabinet meeting chaired by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin.
So the question remains, is drinking during lockdown a need or a want? And should breweries be considered as an “essential” service? At a time when we’re faced with a global crisis that can be stopped with more people staying home, it’s perhaps fine to limit alcohol supply, especially if it also helps prevent a spike in domestic violence cases.
So here’s to doing our bit to stop the spread of COVID-19, as we look forward to enjoying a glass of wine next to KLCC, sipping cocktails in Chinatown’s back alleys and grabbing a pint in Bangsar, sooner rather than later.