Evidence indicates associations between exposure to mass traumatic events and increased alcohol consumption and related harms following the crises. However, there is limited evidence available to inform alcohol policies during such events. In this commentary, we present the range of government actions to control public access to alcohol during the novel coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic in provinces and territories across Canada. Liquor retailers, including both private and government-run retailers, have been designated as essential services in all jurisdictions, operating under an evolving set of rules. From a public health perspective, keeping liquor retailers open during pandemic-related lockdown restrictions is a delicate decision which poses new risks and considerations about the best strategy for minimizing alcohol-related harms. We discuss the need to strike a balance between supplying public access to alcohol, particularly to those living with dependence, and unintentionally sending the message that alcohol is essential in our lives and encouraging consumption. Given the far-reaching effects of alcohol on health, social, psychological, economic, and work safety outcomes, we describe international guidance for minimizing alcohol-related harms and suggest that a nuanced and evidence-informed discussion about the considerations and impacts of alcohol control measures during a public health emergency should be undertaken.
Is another public health crisis brewing beneath the COVID-19 pandemic?