The Beverages Corporation has released a circular on the protocol that customers should follow at the outlets, while a doctor explains why these should not close suddenly.

COVID-19 Kerala bars and beverage outlets continue to function Opposition criticises
Coronavirus Coronavirus Wednesday, March 18, 2020 - 17:46

When the coronavirus came to Kerala and people began deserting the streets for the safety of their homes, the famous queues at the outlets run by the Kerala State Beverages Corporation Ltd — BevCO — remained unaffected. Shutdown rules came into effect, offices asked employees to work from home, but bars and BevCo continued to sell liquor and this has upset many.

“It is very crucial to stop the spread of the disease in the coming days. Reports of these (liquor outlets) still functioning without following any safety precautions have come out. Considering everything, these outlets should be closed at least temporarily,” Opposition leader Ramesh Chennithala asked of the government.

In one of the press conferences where the media raised this, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had no real answer as to why the state’s partial lockdown was not extended to BevCO outlets. He instead retorted jokingly, “Will any of you allow that (closing down) to happen?”

The cabinet on Wednesday has also decided not to shut down BevCo outlets as yet.

BevCo releases circular for coronavirus times

The Beverages Corporation, meanwhile, released a circular, on following a protocol to ensure safety. “It basically says that the customers who come to these outlets should wear masks or towels to cover their faces, keep the required social distance (at least one meter from one another as advised by the health department), and avoid coming in groups as they usually do. It also asks that at a time there should not be more than 25 to 30 people at an outlet. We have also arranged for buckets of water and soap at some of the outlets for the staff/customers to wash their hands,” says G Sarjan Kumar, managing director of BevCo.

He also says that they have asked for the service of security guards at every outlet to ensure that all the above measures are followed. “We are also seeking the help of the police department to intervene in case the crowd cannot be controlled by the security guards.”

The circular says that masks, sanitisers and gloves have been provided for the employees of all the retails units. It also asks warehouse managers and shop-in-charges to open maximum sales counters to reduce the queues.

Doctor’s note on why the outlets should not be closed suddenly

When the criticism continued to pour, Dr Manoj Vellanad, who works at the Thiruvananthapuram Medical College, wrote a Facebook post on why bars and BevCo outlets should not be shut suddenly. He writes that the concern is indeed genuine, because if any of the customers coming to these places are infected with coronavirus, it is possible for other customers to get infected.

The doctor warns that though there are many health hazards associated with drinking, it can also cause harm if people stop drinking suddenly. The body may react very badly to it. “It can lead to alcohol withdrawal syndrome. It is a very difficult condition and needs expert treatment at a hospital. Otherwise, it can lead to the serious condition of Delirium Tremens or even death. It needs expensive treatment with ICU admission and ventilator support,” writes Dr Manoj.

Instead he suggests the precautions that can be taken: Those who don’t have a drinking habit can keep away from the outlets, and those who have the habit should try to ensure there is very little rush when they go and also not to touch others in the queue. Secondly, he asks to keep a distance from each other and wash your hands as soon as you are back home. The doctor also suggests a token system at the BevCo outlets and also a tie-up with online food delivery companies so alcohol can be delivered to homes.

“If all the outlets need to be closed, give time for the consumers to stock their liquor. But this would require that all precautions are taken to avoid rush,” Dr Manoj adds. He clarifies that his note is not to promote drinking in any way, but this is a delicate issue that should be handled with care.

However, this also points to a lapse in the state's liquor policy. Consecutive governments in Kerala had promised that they would start awareness campaigns against alcoholism, but no one really was ready to dampen a major source of revenue for the state. And as the entire state faces a shutdown, there is no solution in sight, including introducing a token system or rationing.

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