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Debunked: That WhatsApp message about a 'strict ban on alcohol' from tomorrow is, at best, an April Fool's joke

The image claims that there will be “a strict ban of alcohol” from tomorrow, meaning that off-licences would close.

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AN IMAGE HAS been shared on WhatsApp today claiming that, under government advice, a “strict” ban on alcohol is to come into effect from tomorrow.

The screenshot shows the green gov.ie header from Irish government websites, an image of coronavirus cells, and a short blurb at the end under the heading “COVID-19 (Coronavirus)”.

The message under that heading reads:

A strict ban of alcohol will come into effect from 02/04/2020 under the emergency health legislation. As it has been found to lower the immune system. This means it will be illegal to purchase, sell and consume alcohol.

Here is the image:

Image from iOS

This would mean that all off-licences would have to close; pubs and clubs have already been ordered to close in order to comply with social distancing measures to slow the spread of Covid-19.

The image and message are purported to be available at the www.gov.ie site, which is the homepage of the Irish government. At the bottom of that gov.ie homepage, it has three boxes featuring Covid-19 information.

Screenshot 2020-04-01 at 17.16.29 Source: Gov.ie/en/

The first box here is similar to the WhatsApp screenshot about off-licences – it has the same image and heading, but the text is different. 

Essential services

Last Friday 27 March, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar asked the public to stay at home, and announced that all non-essential businesses and services would close, or work from home where possible, until Easter Sunday 12 April. 

To help people make an informed decision, the Irish government then published two lists: a list of essential retailers, and non-retail essential services.

Number one on that list of essential retailers was: “Retail and wholesale sale of food, beverages and newspapers in non-specialised and specialised stores.”

This includes off-licences, which are still selling alcohol to the public. 

‘Altered screengrab’

The Department of Health said in a statement to TheJournal.ie that the image being sent around “is a screengrab of our website that has been altered”.

It said that the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) has “not made any such recommendation”, as was in the doctored screenshot. The statement continued:

Retail and wholesale sale of food, beverages and newspapers in non-specialised and specialised stores is included in the list of essential retail outlets remaining open during this time.
As always, we would ask that people get their information from reputable sources and follow the public health advice available on gov.ie and hse.ie.

In a statement to TheJournal.ie, the Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI) said that off-licences remain open and there are no plans for this to change. 

“Any significant changes to the list of essential retail (food and drink) outlets that are allowed to remain open would be communicated by the Department of Health on behalf of the National Public Heath Emergency Team who make these decisions,” the statement said. 

In the absence of any such communication, there are no changes to the current arrangements as set out last Friday 27th March.

Although there may be a debate on whether off-licences should be included on a list of ‘essential’ services during a lockdown induced by a global pandemic, for the forseeable future, they are on the list.

Cafés and restaurants are still allowed to supply takeaways and home deliveries, which would be an option open for off-licences and other retailers who sell alcohol if they were ordered to close.

This means there is no “strict” ban alcohol. It should also be noted that even if off-licences were ordered to close, it would not then follow that it would be made “illegal to purchase, sell, and consume alcohol”. 

As it’s 1 April today, April Fool’s Day, it’s possible that this is an April Fool’s joke. But a few people believed that the screenshot was real, and because of stockpiling challenges faced by retailers and their staff before – it’s worth clarifying this message now.

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There is a lot of false news and scaremongering being spread in Ireland at the moment about coronavirus. Here are some practical ways for you to assess whether the messages that you’re seeing – especially on WhatsApp – are true or not. 

STOP, THINK AND CHECK 

Look at where it’s coming from. Is it someone you know? Do they have a source for the information (e.g. the HSE website) or are they just saying that the information comes from someone they know? A lot of the false news being spread right now is from people claiming that messages from ‘a friend’ of theirs. Have a look yourself – do a quick Google search and see if the information is being reported elsewhere. 

Secondly, get the whole story, not just a headline. A lot of these messages have got vague information (“all the doctors at this hospital are panicking”) and don’t mention specific details. This is often – but not always a sign – that it may not be accurate. 

Finally, see how you feel after reading it. A lot of these false messages are designed to make people feel panicked. They’re deliberately manipulating your feelings to make you more likely to share it. If you feel panicked after reading something, check it out and see if it really is true.

TheJournal.ie’s FactCheck is a signatory to the International Fact-Checking Network’s Code of Principles. You can read it here. For information on how FactCheck works, what the verdicts mean, and how you can take part, check out our Reader’s Guide here. You can read about the team of editors and reporters who work on the factchecks here

Have you gotten a message on WhatsApp or Facebook or Twitter about coronavirus that you’re not sure about and want us to check it out? Message or mail us and we’ll look into debunking it. WhatsApp: 085 221 4696 or Email: answers@thejournal.ie 

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