Stop the booze witch hunt, ban the cigs instead
When the government lifted the ban on alcohol sales this past Sunday, netizens shared a clip showing people scrambling hectically at a hypermarket to buy alcoholic drinks. Most people condemned the act. They seemed to link the buyers with the underprivileged people who have struggled to get 5,000 baht in relief money.
The viral clip resulted in comments to the effect of: "Thais are unable to prioritise their spending. The other day they complained that they had missed out on the cash handout scheme and are unable to feed themselves. Then they thronged the supermarket, buying a whole lot of alcohol. Worse, no one cared about social-distancing rules."
A local cartoonist was quick to draw a two-panel comic strip showing a poor man lamenting that he was unable to afford a meal in one panel and in the other panel rushing to get a bottle of booze.
Even the prime minister did not miss a chance to condemn the "booze rush", threatening to reimpose the ban if "there's any violation".
But really, what did we expect the day after nearly a month's ban which simply came out of the blue?
If those critics would think for a second before making their condemnations, they would see these shoppers made big purchases not because they wanted to fill their craving for alcohol (the poor drink day by day; they cannot afford to buy large quantities). From their appearance and their purchases, it's clear as day that they were retailers or food shop owners looking to make some money and get back to a semblance of "normal" life.
And it's no great stretch of the imagination to see they were spooked by the prospect that another open-ended booze ban might be on the horizon.
IMHO, the only reason we can condemn those shoppers is the fact that they failed to observe social distancing. Their priorities were clear, though, when it came to being forced to choose between viral infection and business losses.
But really, it's even more simple than that. People wouldn't feel compelled to stock up if the government hadn't issued a sales ban which is excessive, given that it had already prohibited drinking alcohol elsewhere.
I remember how chaotic the supermarkets became the evening after City Hall issued its short-notice alcohol sales ban last month. Unsurprisingly, all the beer and wine shelves in the high-end supermarkets were emptied, while there was no such phenomenon in regular food and drink shops. Why? The poor do not have such purchasing power. It's as simple as that.
I even remember reading a small article saying a worker who was an alcoholic upcountry died because nobody dared to sell him a shot of rice wine. FYI: alcoholics should be treated as patients, not criminals.
The Covid-19 outbreak has hit us hard in many ways. Worries about an infection that force us to embrace "new normals" are one thing, but having to handle a set of absurd rules and regulations is quite another.
On top of the booze sale ban, has any one noticed new charges that police have slapped against some people?
I'm referring to the arrest of some people who "illegally gathered" in their own home, known as a mua soom in Thai. Then the charges pile up when the people are found to be taking drugs or gambling. In this time of coronavirus, even drinking with friends in your own home can land you in hot water. As the authorities say: any get-together hikes the chances of infection.
According to media reports, some 129 people were arrested under this pretext the first day the lockdown was eased. The reports mentioned drugs, gambling and, of course, booze.
To me, arresting people for using drugs or gambling is ok. But drinking (presumably with family and friends) at home? I'd really love to hear more details on how police applied the charge, which is indeed absurd. Yet, it's enough to make me paranoid. I've started to wonder if I'll be arrested for a peaceful dinner, glasses of wine and beer on the table, at my family home?
Since when did drinking become so socially unacceptable? Getting drunk and becoming a troublemaker is one thing, but drinking responsibly is another. Before we were hit with the coronavirus, I'd seen and heard how people got drunk at home, ended up fighting and were nuisances to their neighbours, but never got arrested. Oh how things have changed.
But if the state is so concerned about our health that it's going to force us to stop drinking, maybe it should ban cigarettes instead, or even stop producing them. After all, it's medically proven that second-hand smoke can be harmful to others, unlike drinking responsibly. Need I say more?
Sirinya Wattanasukchai is a columnist for the Bangkok Post.