Is Alcohol an “Essential Good” During COVID-19? Yes, but Only as a Disinfectant!
Alcohol adversely affects people around the world on a large scale even in nonpandemic times, with about 3 million deaths attributed to alcohol use each year (Shield et al., 2020). During the current coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, a variety of government reactions related to alcohol control was seen, with some countries banning the sale of alcohol outright, and others formally declaring off-premises sales and alcohol delivery services to be “essential,” allowing for additional forms of delivery and weakened restrictions on its availability (Rehm et al., 2020; Reynolds and Wilkinson, 2020).
Sales bans follow the public health rationale and the existing evidence that reducing the availability of retail alcohol will result in less consumption and, therefore, less alcohol-related harm (Chisholm et al., 2018). Declaring beverage alcohol to be an “essential good” during a pandemic, therefore, seems to run counter to this and might signal the close relationship and influence that the alcohol industry may have on policy decision-makers (Hamilton, 2020).
However, there is one scenario in which alcohol could be considered essential during the COVID-19 pandemic, namely the diversion of beverage alcohol to be used as a disinfectant in response to the increased demand for such products (e.g., hand sanitizers and household cleaning agents). In this editorial, this idea is further explored against the backdrop of the alcohol policy response to COVID-19, and health and safety implications are discussed.