Nairobi governor Sonko puts families at risk with ‘coronavirus-busting’ alcohol in food packs

Mike Sonko, the flashy governor of Nairobi, has been distributing packages of food to families as restrictions on movement to slow the spread of Covid-19 bite.

A photo reveals that some of his donations included bottles of Hennessy, a brand of cognac.

Sonko later explained that giving people alcohol was backed by research.

“I think it has created mixed reactions why I am giving some small bottles of Hennessy in the food package which we give to our people,” he said.

“I think from the research which has been conducted by the World Health Organization and various health organisations it has been revealed that alcohol plays a very major role in killing the coronavirus or any sort of virus.”

Hennessy ‘a throat sanitiser’

A photo of the food pack by Nairobi governor Mike Sonko, who is on the right.

In a longer video circulating on WhatsApp, the governor explained further.

“If you take any sanitiser and check the alcoholic content you will find out each sanitiser has above 70% of alcohol content. And you see those things we are putting there [in the food pack] is not a drug or chang’aa [local brew], that is Hennessy which has some percentage of alcoholic content,” Sonko said.

“And that should act as a throat sanitiser. It kills the virus. In case the virus is somewhere in the throat, it kills.”

Hennessy rejects governor’s claims

As the governor’s claims went viral in Kenya, Hennessy put out a statement.

“Hennessy would like to stress that the consumption of our brand or any other alcoholic beverage does not protect against the virus,” it said

The brand said the public advice of the World Health Organization and the Kenyan health ministry was the best way to combat the virus.

“Hennessy advises on washing hands regularly with soap and water or hydro-alcoholic gels, wearing face masks, practising social distancing and staying at home.” 

WHO: Consuming alcohol will not destroy virus

The WHO has said that it is a myth that consuming alcohol will destroy the virus that causes Covid-19. 

Alcohol should only be used as an external disinfectant, the health agency says. “Alcohol (at a concentration of at least 60% by volume) works as a disinfectant on your skin, but it has no such effect within your system when ingested,” it says. 

“Consuming alcohol will not destroy the virus, and its consumption is likely to increase health risks if a person becomes infected with the virus.” 

“It will not disinfect your mouth and throat; and it will not give you any kind of protection against Covid-19,” the WHO adds.

With each drink, the risk of damage to a person’s health increased, the agency said, with alcohol having both short term and long term effects on “almost every single organ of your body”.

No ‘safe limit’ for alcohol consumption 

Prof Fred Wamunyokoli is an associate professor in the biochemistry department at Kenya’s Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology.

He told Africa Check that there was “nothing like a safe limit in alcohol” when it came to moderate drinking. 

“Different bodies react differently to alcohol. Even 1% can be toxic depending on the body’s tolerance. Alcohol beverage tolerance on the body differs from person to person.”

Wamunyokoli said that not every form of alcohol would effectively destroy viruses on surfaces. It must be “absolute alcohol” such as ethanol, with a high alcohol content – and then only for external use.

Africa Check has also fact-checked a claim by the South African government that alcohol weakens the immune system and reduces the body’s ability to cope with infection, and rated it correct. – Dancan Bwire

Further reading

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