Harmful effects of the decision taken to permit the liquor stores to reopen when the curfew is lifted on 20 April during the COVID-19 pandemic [Post updated on 21 April 2020]

Alcohol weakens the immune system thus increasing the risk of contacting infectious diseases. World Health Organization strongly recommended avoiding alcohol use to protect one’s own immune system and health as well as the health of others especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Alcohol consumption is associated with the symptoms of depression, anxiety and other mental disorders, and the risk of family and domestic violence.In a situation where public is advised to maintain the physical distancing as a protective measure, it was observed in Sri Lanka that overcrowding near the liquor shops increased the risk of virus transmission exponentially. Therefore, opening of liquor shops were banned by the Government, apparently as a protective measure to control the transmission of COVID-19 as well as to improve personal and family wellbeing during the period of lockdown.

However, on 19th April 2020 Sri Lanka’s Excise Department announced that when the curfew is lifted,the liquor stores are permitted to reopen under certain conditions. According to the press notice issued by Kapila Kumarasinghe, the Deputy Commissioner-General of Excise, liquor stores would have to abide by the curfew laws and social distancing regulations in effect. Several days prior to announcing this decision, the same Deputy Commissioner-General of Excise stated on media that the illicit brewing at domestic level for personal consumption has increased since the imposition of curfew, although he failed to produce any comparative statistics on the claim.[1]

According to the media reports, the Commissioner General of Excise had taken this decision on the advice of the Secretary to the Ministry of Finance, Economy and Policy Development.The decision was justified by the Department of Excise by stating that they had received several complaints on illegal liquor distilleries, and also warned that consuming illicit liquor can sometimes even lead to death!

It is a well known fact that there is no “safe limit” in alcohol consumption. It has both long- and short-term effects harming every single organ of the body. In addition to that, several deaths were reported inIran at the beginning of the pandemic due to alcohol poisoning after being mislead by myths about alcohol’s properties to kill the COVID-19-causing virus.[2],[3],[4]

World Health Organization(WHO) has declared the following statements on the general myths about alcohol and COVID-19:[5]

  • Consuming alcohol will not destroy the virus, and its consumption is likely to increase the health risks if a person becomes infected with the virus.
  • Consumption of alcohol will not kill the virus in the inhaled air; it will not disinfect your mouth and throat; and it will not give you any kind of protection against COVID-19.
  • Alcohol has a deleterious effect on your immune system and will not stimulate immunity and virus resistance.

Furthermore, money, time and the other resourcesare likely to be diverted to consumption of alcohol, during these difficult times, risking the availability of resources to support day-to-day family expenses.

In this context, the decision taken by the Exercise Department, Sri Lanka to re-open the liquor stores raises concerns over health of the citizens of Sri Lanka and over the credibility of the duty of the Excise Department to the people of Sri Lanka. It is certainly not for the benefit of the people that this decision was taken. This in turn raises the important question: Who is behind this decision? Reportedly all the licensed liquor stores in the Southern Province, which were closed with their doors sealed recently, are also permitted to open for business.

Sri Lankan Government and the Excise Department, should rethink about the decision taken to open the liquor stores at this time for the wellbeing of the country and its citizens.

UPDATE ON 21 April 2020:

The Presidential Media Division announced this morning that the government has ordered the closure of all liquor shops in the country until further notice.[6]

 

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