“We have been in solitude for over a month, alcohol will energise us to maintain social-distancing during the pandemic”, said one, “I haven’t had a drink for 42 days, let me drink today”, said the other. These were the wordings of people standing in queue answering to questions of reporters, who were reporting about the opening of liquor shops in India after 40 days.
India is constantly struggling to contain the epidemic (COVID-19), which is spreading unabatedly throughout the country. India now has more than 50,000 cases with more than 1700 fatalities. With no known possible vaccine for the virus till now, the sole companions of people around the world to fight against this contagion are Social distancing and following basic hygiene etiquettes.
The GOI has now extended the country-wide Lockdown from 4 May to 17 May, termed as Lockdown 3.0, with some easing like working of private companies with 33% employees, flexibility for people to ply on roads and opening of shops in orange and green zones, and opening of business activities and liquor shops among others. But a measure by The GOI to boost the already stretched exchequers by opening the way to get more revenue through liquor has cost the GOI.
Effects of Liquor consumption
According to a report by the WHO, alcohol contributes to 3 to 5 million deaths (5% of all deaths) each year globally. Also, Alcohol has been linked to approximately 230 diseases including 40 that would not prevail without alcohol. Alcohol is attributable to early-age deaths and disability with approximately 13.1% of these deaths between the age group of 20-39 years. Additionally, alcohol is related to many infectious diseases like tuberculosis as well as hypertension, cancer and other health-related problems.
Not only this, apart from health impact, but it also impacts society and Economy by causing changes at various levels. According to a report by the ministry of road transport and highways of the GOI, about 14071 people or 38 people every day died of road accidents in the year 2017 due to drinking and driving. Excessive drinking is attributed to violence in society, suicides, sexual assaults and intimate partner violence, as well as risky sexual behaviour like unprotected sex. Heavy spending on alcohol leads to consumption of all the saved incomes of people who are poor which invariably is related to other root problems like poverty, malnutrition etc.
Alcohol and COVID-19
According to a recent study, persons with existing comorbidities have a higher chance to die due to COVID-19. Alcohol which is linked to the root cause of many diseases will inevitably affect the person’s health thereby, making him more vulnerable to contract the disease and even cause his/her death.
When WHO has recommended a healthy life-style and building a good immunity to curb the effect of COVID by cutting unhealthy activities, stress and dosage of illicit materials, consumption of Alcohol will prove fatal in these trying times.
Taking the case of India which is in lockdown for over a month, if alcohol is provided to its consumers the case of crime against women, Children and other heinous crimes will rise. As soon as people got to know about the easing of the restrictions on the sale of liquor directed by the GOI, they defied all the social-distancing norms and came in huge numbers to buy alcohol. This decision of the government might cost all the advances of lockdown, resulting in a probable increase in active cases of COVID-19. At a time when social distancing is the only known panacea we have, doing such things will cost us more than what we could possibly imagine. Giving access to alcohol will add more burden to our already burdened healthcare system, which we cannot afford at this point in time.
The road ahead
Watching the stampede on liquor stores, the Delhi government has taken a decision to raise cess on alcohol by 70% terming it as “Corona tax” to boost its revenue. More such decisions are likely to be seen by other state governments in the near future. But what is really needed is to have a long term strategy to deal with this problem which is adding to the already existing problem of the Epidemic.
State revenues are undoubtedly low due to halt in economic activities, but we need to bear in mind questions like, “On what expense are we trying to get more revenue gains?” and “Is it really our need in these unprecedented times?”. Increasing its availability through online sales and home-delivery will prove counter-productive to all the efforts we have given to fight against this virus. This is a good opportunity in the hands of the GOI to run de-addiction programmes by reducing availability and access to people which in turn will improve the overall health of the community at large.
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Of the ten strategies recommended in the WHO’s Global Strategy to Reduce the Harmful Use of Alcohol 2010, one of the core interventions is to enact and enforce restrictions on the physical availability of alcoholic beverages. India where crimes related to alcoholism are high, this is a chance to take cognizance of the problem and curb it.
Watching these kinds of episodes our conscience needs to be awakened to question ourselves what is important to us and what is not in these times of action. It is said that unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures. A country which is found on the principles of Gandhi, who was very much against the consumption of alcohol, the country which has added article like Art-47 in its constitution, which attempts to decrease the usage of alcohol, and the same county which has made the promise under SDGs of relative reducing in the prevalence of alcohol up to 10% by 2025, it is imperative to look into the matter at the earliest and start the work from now on, because as Ralph Waldo Emerson puts it, ” The first wealth is Health”.
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