COVID-19 | Sabre-rattling over closing liquor outlets

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Government’s rejection of Opposition demand over COVID-19 outbreak opens battlefront

The decision of the government to reject the demand of the Opposition to close down crowded liquor outlets given the COVID-19 outbreak is shaping up to be another battlefront between the rival coalitions.

Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president Mullappally Ramachandran had said it was ironical that the government allowed liquor shops but closed schools.

Leader of the Opposition Ramesh Chennithala, former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy, and Congress leader V.M. Sudheeran warned the government that it would make itself vulnerable to accusations of endangering public health if the administration did not immediately shutter the 270-odd outlets to prevent the peer-to-peer spread of the illness.

An indication that the United Democratic Front (UDF) would politicise the issue came when Youth League workers tried to force the closure of a Bevco outlet at Sarovar in Kozhikode recently.

Heft of social forces

The UDF appeared intent on harnessing the heft of influential social forces that back prohibition, including church and Muslim organisations, to try to put the government on the defensive in the run-up to the local body elections and the Assembly bypolls in Chavara and Kuttanad.

Excise Commissioner S. Ananthakrishnan told that sharply limiting the availability of legal liquor might open the door for bootleg alcohol of dubious quality and questionable provenance into the State.

He said excise officers would inspect liquor outlets, bars, and private member clubs to ensure that the management observed the safety protocol mandated by the government.

They would also look for overcrowding and ensure that managements provided enough social distance between customers.

The government has asked Bevco authorities to plot out measures to ensure that public health is not compromised when people turn up at liquor outlets in significant numbers.

The options before the government included opening more counters. It has for now decided against extending timings or altering liquor laws to allow for the online sale of legal alcohol. Bevco has issued personal protective equipment to those who manage its counters. The corporation has also provided hand sanitisers for the public.

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