COVID-19 cases sharply increased in the capital city of Thailand, Bangkok, in December, 2020. As a measure to tackle the spread of the virus bars have been closed in the city since January 2021. At the same time alcohol sales have been temporarily banned in restaurants.
The Centre for COVID-19 Situation Administration (CCSA) is set to review the current COVID-19 restrictions in Bangkok including those pertaining to alcohol availability. The CCSA is also considering whether or not to make alcohol more available again as the number of COVID-19 cases is declining. It remains unclear, however, whether the changes would apply to bars only or to all nightlife premises.
Meanwhile breweries have been leading an aggressive push using bar owners to protest against the Ministry of Health and the temporary sales ban on alcohol.
Previously, also in May 2020 the government bowed to industry pressure and lifted their temporary alcohol sales ban along with relaxation of lockdown measures.
Lifting of the temporary alcohol sales ban in restaurants and bars, during the ongoing pandemic is linked to severe risks of coronavirus outbreaks. New research published in the Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs found “potentially significant risks of transmission” in bars and pubs which re-opened after COVID-19 restrictions.
How do temporary alcohol sales bans help during the pandemic?
In the ongoing fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, temporary alcohol sales bans have been a life saving policy solution. A country who pioneered these temporary sales bans during COVID-19 is South Africa. The South African example is real-world prove that temporary alcohol sales bans protect people. The benefits experienced by the South African people included reduced trauma cases in hospitals, decreased crime and lesser violence – meaning much reduced strain on emergency services and the healthcare system overall.
A recent groundbreaking analysis provides further evidence. Researchers examined the the interaction between alcohol and the coronavirus crisis comprehensively, looking at the individual, societal and policy dimensions. They find that alcohol is a key amplifyer of the pandemic – in different ways.
- Physiological impacts of alcohol weaken immune system functioning and affect a range of organs, thereby increasing the risk of viral infection, severity, recovery and long-term consequences.
- Alcohol-centric social contexts have played a crucial role in ‘super-spreader’ events, amplifying the coronavirus outbreak early, and later driving the resurgence after initial control.
Many other countries around the world addressed alcohol availability to bolster their efforts to contain the novel coronavirus. The chosen solutions ranged from temporary alcohol sales bans to temporary closure of bars and nightclubs.
Since alcohol weakens immune system functioning and causes a range of diseases, reducing alcohol availability helps to keep people healthy during the pandemic.
Alcohol is also a depressant. Therefore, lower alcohol consumption protects not only immune system functioning but also mental well-being during the current crisis, that many experience as traumatic and stressful as it is.
Lower alcohol availability also means lower alcohol use and that in turn means fewer people need healthcare and emergency services. This helps to maintain healthcare capacity and protects front-line healthcare workers by reducing their workload.
These are some of the reasons why the World Health Organization advised to take policy action to reduce alcohol availability early on in the coronavirus pandemic.