Orla Brady discusses why off licences are deemed essential in the UK
Walking the streets of Britain has been an eerie experience for all who have ventured outdoors over the last few weeks. Major cities up and down the country have lost their daily bustle and appear deserted, whilst towns and villages have become notably quieter than usual. High streets have shut up shop, alongside pubs, bars, cafes and restaurants, eliminating the ritual of social gatherings from our lives. This has come as a result of the necessary steps made by prime minister Boris Johnson as the British government attempts to tackle the growing cases of Covid-19 throughout the country. On Monday 23 March, Johnson informed the British public that the United Kingdom would be embarking on a state of “lockdown” in a bid to reduce spreading the virus, which has tragically claimed the lives of over 14,000 in Britain. During his announcement, Johnson instructed for the closure of all shops that were deemed “unnecessary”, meaning establishments that are critical to the function of society, such as supermarkets, pharmacies, petrol stations, and post offices only may remain open for business. This style of lockdown follows in the footsteps of Italy and France, alongside several other European countries, who announced stringent restrictions prior to Britain in order to tackle the growth of the virus.
Prior to the prime minister’s announcement which instructed the current lockdown, British supermarkets were raided by panicked customers who had one aim of their trip: to stockpile as much as possible in order to prepare for the possibility that we must remain at home for the foreseeable as a result of the virus. A mix of fear, uncertainty and, some argue, sheer selfishness, led to supermarket aisles becoming void of cleaning products, toilet roll, bread and frozen foods, alongside countless other items. However, the public’s decision to do this seemed somewhat misinformed. The countries that decided to undertake a national lockdown before the British government allowed supermarkets to remain open for citizens to shop for necessary household items.
In the midst of Britain’s stockpiling crisis, another level of panic occurred when supermarkets began to run low on stock of beer and wine. The prospect of being cooped up indoors without the assistance of alcohol was one that the United Kingdom was not yet ready to face. Coronavirus had taken away our pubs, our clubs and our social lives. It would not take away our best loved pastime – boozing. To the delight of the British public, this scenario was avoided. The government made the decision to allow off-licenses to stay open during lockdown, therefore classing them as “essential” to the operation of daily life in Britain. But what does this say about our nation?
We are in the midst of a once in a generation universal crisis, the likes of which has not been experienced since the second world war. We have been instructed to venture to the shops once a week in order to buy only the essentials and, however much we would like to think otherwise, for many households this includes alcohol. If we look back to the war, booze was truly in short supply in Britain however the demand was still ever-present, leading to “black market” trade becoming increasingly popular. The striking difference that we face with the coronavirus crisis is that, as citizens of the modern world, we have lost the ability to differentiate between what is essential and what is non-essential.
We follow the routine of buying our groceries in supermarkets, which offer an endless choice of options with regards to food, drinks, cleaning products, beauty items and much more. This means that we have incorporated a great deal more into our weekly shop than the citizens who lived through the war, and we have found ourselves in a position where we cannot fathom a life without these items or the freedom to choose what we want to buy. This highlights the reason behind the public’s decision to stock-pile and the concern regarding the possibility of a limited shopping experience. Alcohol is an example of a product that has infiltrated the weekly shop. It is not uncommon to see a couple of bottles of wine, or a bottle of flavoured gin, placed in a trolley next to a loaf of bread and a pint of milk.
The current situation may help the British public to become more mindful of the number of unnecessary items they are buying under the lure of supermarket deals and promotions. Although it is unavoidable that everybody will disagree with what falls under the essential and non-essential categories, we may begin to mirror a time when both the government, and the public, understood what a household requires to survive during a crisis. However, as we battle through this confusing and disturbing circumstance, we must try to retain a semblance of normality. If this includes enjoying a glass of wine during a virtual date night with your other half, or comparing gin flavours over FaceTime with friends, then we should be entitled that. And off-licences will allow us this luxury.