The WHO arguably failed at its most basic mission of stopping the spread of a global pandemic, but it’s still willing to hector people about their drinking habits.
For those stuck at home and possibly out of work during the COVID-19 pandemic, the option of having a cocktail or beer in the evening is one of the few things keeping them sane and indoors. It makes sense then that the World Health Organization (WHO) would want to restrict alcohol at this time.
Yesterday, the European branch of WHO argued that letting people drink in their own homes during quarantine was a grave public health threat.
“Alcohol is consumed in excessive quantities in the European Region, and leaves too many victims,” said Carina Ferreira-Borges, the program manager for WHO Europe’s Alcohol and Illicit Drugs Programme, in a press release. “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.”
The WHO press release goes on to argue that governments should resist their urges to loosen alcohol regulations during the pandemic, and should even consider “reinforcing” the rules already on the books.
“This needs to be complemented by communicating with the public about the risks of alcohol consumption, and maintaining and strengthening alcohol and drug services,” says the WHO.
This is not the first time the organization has warned against drinking at home during the current pandemic. Another WHO Europe doctorcalled alcohol “an unhelpful coping mechanism” during a press conference in late March, reported the U.K.’s Independent.
That the WHO would choose now to lecture the world on its drinking reflects remarkable tone-deafness from an organization that has spent the better part of 2020 repeating the lies of China’s communist government about the coronavirus and spreading misinformation about the efficacy of mask-wearing.
The public health arm of the United Nations is tasked in part with relaying accurate information about global pandemics and mitigating their spread. It failed on both counts when it comes to COVID-19, forming one link in a long chain of government failures that have resulted in most of the country sheltering in place for fear of coughing deadly pathogens on each other and killing grandma.
The WHO’s public health officials are going to lecture us on drinking? Now?
This specific guidance is directed at E.U. residents, but people around the globe should be concerned about the international organization’s warped priorities during this crisis. In addition to its utter inability to just read the room, the WHO’s argument for restricting alcohol falls flat.
As Baylen Linnekin argued in GAG, there’s no clear link between restricting alcohol sales and preventing the domestic violence the WHO is warning about. Places like Saudi Arabia and South Africa (which banned alcohol sales during the COVID-19 pandemic) both continue to have high rates of domestic and gender-based violence.
And while it’s true that people abuse alcohol—and some will abuse it more during the current quarantine situation—there’s a compelling public health reason for keeping the booze flowing: Drinking is fun.
People are being asked to sacrifice a lot during current coronavirus-induced shutdowns of public spaces. That includes whatever joy they got from going to the movies, restaurants, bars, concerts, and sporting events.
This social distancing is, of course, necessary in the short-term to slow the rate of COVID-19 infections and deaths. But if we want to ensure people stick to these social distancing measures and keep flattening the curve, we should make staying at home as enjoyable as possible. And you don’t make social isolation more enjoyable by forcing people to watch Tiger King sober.
That the public health experts at the WHO don’t grasp this isn’t surprising, but it is infuriating.
President Donald Trump said in a press briefing yesterday that he intends to cut off U.S. funding to the WHO. That’s a great idea—one Trump will hopefully follow through on.
In the interim, we should actively ignore the organization’s teetotaling advice.