WHO: Restrict Alcohol Access During COVID-19 Lockdown

The WHO Regional Offices for Europe, the Americas (PAHO) and the Eastern Mediterranean (EMRO) have released important new guidance and advice on alcohol and COVID-19. With the new factsheet WHO reminds people that consuming alcohol does not protect them from COVID-19, and encourages governments to enforce measures which limit alcohol consumption. At times of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, alcohol consumption can exacerbate health vulnerability, risk-taking behaviours, mental health issues and violence.

The new fact sheet provides important information that the public should know about regarding alcohol consumption and COVID-19. It addresses, among other things, the misinformation that is being spread through social media and other communication channels about alcohol and COVID-19.

The fact sheet warns people of the physical harms of alcohol including weakening of the immune system and also warns about mental health risks posed by alcohol by aggravating existing conditions and increasing risk of mental disorders.

WHO urges governments to uphold and reinforce existing rules and regulations to protect health and reduce harm caused by alcohol, such as restricting access and to avoid relaxing regulations.

Alcohol is consumed in excessive quantities in the European Region, and leaves too many victims. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we should really ask ourselves what risks we are taking in leaving people under lockdown in their homes with a substance that is harmful both in terms of their health and the effects of their behaviour on others, including violence,” said Carina Ferreira-Borges, Programme Manager, Alcohol and Illicit Drugs Programme, WHO Europe.

Busting myths on alcohol and COVID-19 and advising governments on alcohol policy during pandemic

As part of its public health response to COVID-19, WHO has worked with partners to develop a factsheet which addresses myths and provides guidance during the pandemic: “Alcohol and COVID-19: what you need to know”.

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 avoid alcohol use or minimize their alcohol consumption at any time, and particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Alcohol is a psychoactive substance that is associated with mental disorders; people at risk or who have an alcohol use disorder, are particularly vulnerable, especially when in self-isolation. Medical and treatment services need to be alert and ready to respond to any person in need.

Restricting alcohol access during the COVID-19 pandemic

Existing rules and regulations to protect health and prevent and reduce harm caused by alcohol, such as restricting alcohol availability, 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.

This needs to be complemented by communicating with the public about the risks of alcohol consumption, and maintaining and strengthening alcohol and other drug services.

Alcohol is responsible for 3 million deaths a year worldwide, a third of which occur in the WHO European Region. Not only is this the region with the highest alcohol intake and the highest prevalence of alcohol users 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.

Of the six WHO regions, the Region of the Americas has the highest prevalence of alcohol users and the second highest alcohol intake in the population, after Europe. Furthermore, it is also the region with the highest prevalence of alcohol use disorders among women in the population and the second highest among men. Alcohol kills over 300,000 yearly in the Americas.

There is absolutely no doubt that excessive alcohol consumption is harmful. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we must prevent harms to people confined to their homes with access to alcohol in quantities that will be harmful both for their health and that of others in the household, who might also be subject to violence,” says Maristela Monteiro, Senior Advisor on Alcohol at PAHO.

Although a vast majority of the population in the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean Region is abstinent and per capita consumption of alcohol is about one tenth of the global consumption, the need is to uphold and even reinforce existing rules and regulations to protect health and reduce harm caused by alcohol, such as restricting access during the COVID-19 pandemic and emergency situations; while any relaxation of regulations or their enforcement should be avoided.

More resources

Download more PDFs here:

Fact sheet in short version

Fact sheet in Portugues version