The Finnish government is considering several alcohol policy solutions to better regulate alcohol availability to help contain the spread of COVID-19. Since lockdown laws relaxed a slew of COVID-19 cases have been traced back to bars and restaurants selling alcohol.
The suggested measures include the following:
- Night-time alcohol sales ban starting from midnight and a closing time for bars and restaurants at 1:00 AM. Some cabinet ministers are in support of banning night-time sales starting before midnight as well.
- Limits on occupancy of 50%.
A decision is expected to be taken by Wednesday, September 30, 2020.
Alcohol use has been found to affect people’s behaviors in ways that threaten protective health guidelines such as mask use and physical distancing. People gathering in large groups, ignoring health guidelines, to consume alcohol leads to increased spread of the virus. One recent study found that among young adults who used alcohol, adherence to public policies to curb the coronavirus such as stay-at-home orders, decreased over time and was related to alcohol use events.
Apart from dissipating crowded gatherings there are other important reasons for limiting alcohol availability during the pandemic. As the World Health Organization has advised, these include:
- Alcohol increases the risk of infection and risk of more severe COVID-19 disease progression,
- Alcohol weakens the immune system, and
- Alcohol-related injury, disease and violence increase the burden on healthcare and emergency services which are already near or over capacity.
Already in Finland there are reports of increased violence related to increased alcohol use during COVID-19 over the January-to-May period of 2020. Official statistics from the National Police Board in Finland reported a total of 201 murders, homicides or attempted homicides during this time. This is the highest premeditated homicide and attempted homicide rate in Finland in any comparable period over the last 10 years.
Considering the evidence, regulating alcohol availability during the pandemic would be beneficial for Finland to reduce the added burden of alcohol harm to the country. This could help healthcare and emergency services to cope better with the pandemic and save more lives in the long run.