Covid-19 shows life-saving policies are popular

The effort to control the covid-19 outbreak shows the public welcomes government action to protect life. Politicians might take note when formulating policies on alcohol, responsible for one in twenty deaths.

Billions of us have overnight willingly complied with often stringent laws curtailing our business and social lives, thanks to our clear understanding that doing so is saving millions of lives.

It seems reasonable to suggest that we would also gladly accept modest extra tax, advertising restrictions, and labelling and availability measures to cut millions of deaths, injury and suffering from alcohol consumption.

Far harsher restrictions are in place. Alcohol sales have been banned under lockdown laws in South Africa, Botswana, and parts of Thailand, Greenland and among a native group in Canada. The impact is uncertain.

Alcohol dependents will likely suffer the physical and mental health effects of withdrawal.Some have reportedly died as a result of “toddy” becoming hard to come by in India, largely by their own hand.

Providing support will be more challenging in coming months. Can Zoom support ever really replace a face-to-face meeting? Or might online even attract new people and offer more privacy?

Or will online help miss those who need it most? One former alcohol dependent said in a discussion that being in covid-19 isolation with a stash of alcohol would have been her “happy place”.

Like it or not, we will find out some answers in the very near future. But our exceptional circumstances will also create exceptional statistics, full of “confounders”, making them incomparable with those before.

Road accidents in places where alcohol is suddenly off-limits, for example, are likely to drop sharply. But, then again, there is going to be hardly anyone on the road. So what will the numbers mean?

The first phase of the covid-19 outbreak has shown the public welcomes decisive government action to protect health and we will gladly accommodate them. 

As a species we are adaptable survivors. And we have now shown we welcome advice that helps us survive. We might also use this time to reflect and rethink our priorities and habits.

There is room for a glimmer of optimism we might make the best of this unusually bleak situation. ■