Thiruvananthapuram: Amid the thrust on social distancing to keep at bay the cronavirus, tipplers in Kerala, known for its high consumption of alcohol, have been forced to maintain adequate gap while standing in queues to purchase liquor at the state-run retail outfits. An image from Kannur district in north Kerala showing customers made to maintain a one-metre distance between each other while standing in the serpentine queue extending well outside the building has gone viral on Thursday.
Some videos also surfaced later, showing guards at liquor outlets marking the one-metre distance, which has been suggested as part of prevention protocol to prevent the spread of coronavirus. In fact, similar scenes were witnessed at other Kerala State Beverages Corporation (KSBC) outlets since Thursday with the state, known for its socially aware people, reporting 25 confirmed cases of COVID-19 under treatment and over 31,000, including 237 in hospitals, under surveillance.
Even though the Left front government has ordered halt of public functions and closure of educational institutions, it is yet to down shutters of liquor shops which contribute a lion's share to the state treasury. "Usually liquor outlets are crowded, but after the spread of COVID-19 we got directions from the state government to take necessary precautions at the shops. We have provided masks, gloves and sanitisers for the staff," KSBC Managing Director Sparjan Kumar IPS told PTI.
He said three additional guards had been posted at every Indian Made Foreign Liquor outlet now to prevent crowding. "The job of these guards is to ensure that at any given time, not more than 25-30 customers are present at the outlets and to ensure that there is a gap of one metre between persons who have queued up to purchase liquor," Kumar said.
An autorickshaw driver, a regular user of liquor, dont have much to complain and said they have to follow rules. "We can go out and buy liquor as we like. There is no shut down for the liquor shops here. I have not gone out of the country or neither have I met anyone infected, as far as I know. But, we need to follow the rules. The staff there wear masks and provide sanitiser," Satheesan said.
While several had questioned the logic of keeping bars and liquor outlets open while closing down other institutions, state Excise Minister T P Ramakrishnan has said there is no need to shut liquor shops. A senior official of the excise department said closing liquor shops in the state may lead to tipplers consuming spurious liquor "which is more dangerous".
Sanjay Kumar, a retired government servant, concurred with the view. "It's a good thing that the government had not shut down the liquor stores. If it had done that, surious liquor would have got into market. Anyhow, only those who badly need liquor will go to shops. Now, we can see a disciplined crowd there too," he said.
Earlier this week, state Health Minister K K Shailaja and Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan had called for maintaining social distancing among people of the state to prevent spread of the coronavirus.