Health experts suggest abstinence over indulgence to fight against COVID-19

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During the COVID-19 pandemic, alcohol consumption is surely injurious to health. Our immunity lowers as the consumption of alcohol weakens the body’s immune system, leaving drinkers more susceptible to coronavirus, according to the World Health Organization and the Union Health Ministry.

Social distancing would have become impossible and defeating the very purpose of a lockdown and that is the only reason that weighed heavily with the Centre in deciding to ban liquor sales during the entire 40-day stretch of lockdown till May 3, even though most states are suffering huge revenue losses because of this.

Bigger states like UP, Maharashtra and Punjab are losing Rs 50-100 crore per day because of the ban on sale of alcoholic beverages.Several state governments have tried hard to influence the Centre to allow liquor sales in some form, like home delivery or partial opening of vends, but the Centre has rejected these requests citing health concerns and advice from WHO.

“Sale of liquor is neither an essential activity nor is it a perishable commodity,” a senior central government official said. On Thursday, the government in UP allowed distilleries to resume operations from April 20 but said no to sale, marketing or bottling of liquor till May 3.

A senior government official at the Centre pointed to an advisory from the Union health ministry that urges liquor not be consumed at this time as well as a WHO advisory issued three days ago.An advisory issued by the WHO’s regional office in Europe on April 14 said alcohol consumption can exacerbate health vulnerability, risk-taking behaviours, mental health issues and violence during the Covid-induced lockdowns.

“Alcohol consumption is associated with a range of communicable and non-communicable 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 minimise their alcohol consumption at any time, and particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic,” the WHO said.

The Centre allowed states to open the sale of fish, a high-protein food item that can help boost immunity. UP issued a circular on April 15 citing a direction from the Union home secretary on April 10 to all states to allow the same. “Fish is a non-vegetarian food item rich in protein, which offers a high degree of immunity to the human body. Also, it is a perishable commodity and hence not allowing its sale can cause loss of livelihood for poor fishermen,” said a UP government order on April 15.

A senior central official said the focus was on boosting consumption of items that enhance immunity. “The AYUSH ministry has issued a list… PM Modi in his address to the nation asked people to follow that list and have warm water and kadha,” the official added.

Increased risk of domestic abuse due to alcohol consumption during the lockdown was also a factor behind the decision to ban liquor sale, one senior central official said. However, with liquor sale banned, many states are wary of a rise in sale of illicit liquor as well incidents of liquor smuggling. UP government had issued an order asking for a crackdown on illicit liquor sale during the lockdown, booking such accused under tough laws and monitor trucks with alcohol stranded on highways to check pilferage.