Early on in the pandemic the World Health Organization advised governments to limit alcohol availability. This was due to the lethal interaction between alcohol and the COVID-19 pandemic. Alcohol increases the risk of individual infection by weakening immunity. It also increases the risk of coronavirus spread through alcohol-centric social contexts. And alcohol harm places a heavy burden on the healthcare system, for example through alcohol-related hospitalizations.
The Finnish government used several measures to reduce alcohol availability during the pandemic to protect the lives of the Finnish people during the public health crisis. Alcohol sales data show these measures appear to have worked as alcohol use has declined by 5.2% across Finland in 2020.
Main reasons for alcohol use reduction
One of the main reasons for the decrease is a 50% reduction in passenger imports of alcohol products. Due to the pandemic and subsequent movement restrictions across borders, the amount of alcohol brought in to Finland from neighboring countries has fallen.
Domestic alcohol sales have increased slightly in 2020 compared to 2019. The total retail sales and dispensing of alcoholic beverages increased 0.4% compared to 2019.
How alcohol products were bought in Finland changed in 2020. The government-run alcohol retail monopoly Alko and grocery stores saw a rise in alcohol sales while restaurants, bars and pubs saw a decrease. Alko’s and grocery stores’ retail sales increased by 6.8% compared to 2019. In contrast, restaurant alcohol sales decreased by 40.5%. However, it must be noted that on-trade such as as restaurant sales only make up of 7% of total alcohol consumption in Finland. Therefore, the on-trade alcohol sale reduction has a low impact on population-level alcohol consumption.
According to a European open survey, a lot of Finns did not increase their alcohol consumption in 2020. However, a small group of Finnish people who were using alcohol heavily already reported that they had increased their consumption. Preliminary results from the FinSote survey confirm that the same is true for data with more at-risk alcohol users collected by random sampling.