Confronted with a constant surge in COVID-19 infections and a new cluster of cases linked to the state’s largest vegetable market in Koyambedu, the Tamil Nadu government Thursday opened retail liquor outlets across the state, a day after announcing a 15 per cent increase in excise duty on Indian Made Foreign Liquor (IMFL), in a bid to tackle the deepening economic crisis. The total sale recorded on Thursday was about Rs 170 crore worth liquor, or about 20 lakh litres.
Tamil Nadu reported 580 new positive cases Thursday, taking the total to 5,409.
Explained: Why liquor sales matter to states
Liquor outlets of the Tamil Nadu State Marketing Corporation Limited (Tasmac) opened to long queues everywhere in Tamil Nadu, except Chennai and containment zones.
— Nandagopal Rajan (@nandu79) May 8, 2020
Despite restrictions such as timings for different age groups, physical distancing norms and mandatory ID cards, queues as long as 1 km were seen in many places.
Tirupur district administration made umbrellas mandatory for those coming to buy liquor besides following norms such as wearing masks.
However, many public health experts fear the decision will trigger a fresh wave of cases considering it is mostly the socially vulnerable groups in the state’s semi-urban and rural areas who buy a chunk of Tasmac liquor products and form the majority of its buyers.
A senior health official said physical distancing norms will go for a toss among drinkers at a time when many districts have started reporting cases originating from the Koyambedu cluster. Against 92 cases reported on Sunday, the total number of those linked to the Koyambedu cluster till Wednesday was 1,010.
The directorate of public health has traced the origin of fresh outbreaks in Cuddalore and Ariyalur districts to workers who returned from Koyambedu market in Chennai.
The government should have waited for a week or two before taking a decision to open Tasmac shops. “Impact of this would be drastic in semi-urban and rural areas. Majority of Tasmac customers come from the most deprived backgrounds. Many of them have liver problems, compromised immunity and are nutrition deprived due to excessive intake of alcohol for a longer period. All of them will be vulnerable to infection,” the official said, adding that this would have detrimental effects on many vulnerable families who were struggling with little savings as there was no income or job for over a month.
State’s liquor sale also depends on products consumed by these weaker sections; 80% of the liquor consumption consists brandy, and the most demanding volume in the market, 60%, is quarter bottles, against 30% of half bottles and 10% of full bottles in demand.
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