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Drinking alone at a bar.

Health experts are advising members of the public against binge drinking during this festive season, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic still a major issue.

Speaking at the Ministry of Health’s virtual media conference yesterday, National Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Programme director Lyra Thompson-Hollingsworth noted that with the COVID-19 regulations, most of the alcohol consumption might be happening at homes. Warning of the health impact of heavy alcohol use, however, she said this places individuals at risk for developing or exacerbating non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and hypertension, which are underlining health conditions that lead to complications for persons who contract COVID-19.

“Alcohol use, especially heavy use, weakens the immune system and reduces its ability to cope with infectious diseases, including COVID-19. Heavy alcohol use is a risk factor for acute respiratory distress syndrome, one of the most severe complications of COVID-19,” Thompson-Hollingsworth said.

She added that alcohol also intensifies fear and anxiety or depression, especially when people are in isolation and it should not be used as a coping strategy to deal with stress.

Thompson-Hollingsworth also cautioned against mixing alcohol with medication, including herbal or over the counter remedies, as this can make them less effective or can increase their potency to a dangerous level.

She also advised drinkers not to consume alcohol in the presence of children, space out their drinks and drink water or non-alcoholic beverages between drinks and not to consume alcohol on an empty stomach.

Again urging the public to adhere to the COVID-19 regulations, particularly in the Christmas season, epidemiologist Dr Avery Hinds noted that the counties with the highest number of infections were St George East, St Patrick and Tobago.

St George East’s County Medical Officer, Dr Osafo Fraser, said the hotspots in the county were Arima (proper), La Horquetta, Arouca, Curepe and Tunapuna.

“I just want at this point to reemphasise the point Dr Hinds made about the need to continuing to observe all the public health regulations.”

Fraser said they had noticed that most of the infections occurred during gatherings at homes with extended family members and friends.

“Especially now that we are approaching the Christmas season, I do want to say, let’s try and make a very big effort and decrease the amount of gatherings in close spaces so that these numbers don’t continue to go up.”

He said the infected persons were mostly males, 53.8 per cent and the majority was within the age bracket 20 to 59.

Meanwhile, the ministry revealed that one more person had died from the virus, taking the toll to 123 overall. It said there were also six new cases reported between December 11 and 13, taking the toll of overall cases to 6,885. Active cases now stand at 582, with 518 people in home self-isolation and 177 in the care of the prison system.