WHO says governments should restrict alcohol access during lockdowns

The World Health Organization has said that governments should restrict access to alcohol during lockdowns.

According to the WHO, drinking alcohol can compromise peoples’ immune systems and make them more vulnerable to the adverse health effects of COVID-19.

Alcohol use is also associated with diseases and mental health disorders that can make a person more likely to contract COVID-19.

“Alcohol is known to be harmful to health in general, and is well understood to increase the risk of injury and violence, including intimate partner violence, and can cause alcohol poisoning,” the WHO said in a press release.

“At times of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, alcohol consumption can exacerbate health vulnerability, risk-taking behaviours, mental health issues and violence. WHO/Europe reminds people that drinking alcohol does not protect them from COVID-19, and encourages governments to enforce measures which limit alcohol consumption…

“Fear and misinformation have generated a dangerous myth that consuming high-strength alcohol can kill the COVID-19 virus. It does not. Consuming any alcohol poses health risks, but consuming high-strength ethyl alcohol (ethanol), particularly if it has been adulterated with methanol, can result in severe health consequences, including death.

“Alcohol consumption is associated with a range of communicable and noncommunicable diseases and mental health disorders, which can make a person more vulnerable to COVID-19. In particular, alcohol compromises the body’s immune system and increases the risk of adverse health outcomes. Therefore, people should minimize their alcohol consumption at any time, and particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Alcohol is responsible for 3 million deaths a year worldwide, according to the WHO. Europe is this the region with the highest alcohol intake and the highest prevalence of drinkers in the population, but it is also the region with the highest prevalence of alcohol use disorders in the population and the highest share of deaths caused by alcohol, among all deaths.

The WHO concluded that existing rules and regulations to protect health and reduce harm caused by alcohol, such as restricting access, should be upheld and even reinforced during the COVID-19 pandemic and emergency situations; while any relaxation of regulations or their enforcement should be avoided.

The coronavirus pandemic has meant that British people have been forced to stay in to try to contain its spread. And many are buying more alcohol to drink at home as a result.

Alcohol sales in supermarkets and corner shops jumped by 22% in March, according to consumer analysts Kantar.

Total sales of wine, beer and spirits topped £1.1bn in the four weeks to 22 March. An extra £199m was added compared with the same period in 2019.

Growth in sales of alcoholic drinks outstripped that of food purchases, even as customers stockpiled goods such as pasta or rice in preparation for having to self-isolate.

Elaine Hindal, chief executive of the charity Drinkaware, said that the rise in sales “isn’t surprising,” but cited concerns when it came to drinking during lockdown.

“Having alcohol available in homes, for many people, can be a source of temptation and lead to drinking without thinking,” she said.

She added: “Small things can quickly turn into habits, like opening a bottle of wine in the afternoon when you normally wouldn’t.

“It’s important to remember that the more you drink, the more you increase your tolerance for alcohol, and over time, this can lead to dependency.”

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