Public Health Wales has urged the country’s 440,000 smokers to quit now to reduce the risks from Covid-19 and said it has seen a spike in the number of people asking for help to stop.
It says smokers are more at risk from Covid-19 because they have weakened lung defences and more regular hand-to-mouth contact, giving more chances for picking up the virus. Many also have existing lung conditions caused by smoking.
According to Public Health Wales, hundreds of smokers have contacted the NHS Help Me Quit helpline since the outbreak began and in response more telephone support advisors have been drafted in.
Meanwhile, the website of the tobacco control campaign group ASH Wales has seen a 40% increase in visitors, mostly searching for online advice on how to quit.
Ashley Gould, a public health consultant at Public Health Wales, said:
Seven in ten smokers in Wales say they would like to quit – there might never be a more important time than now to try harder than ever.
We know that Covid-19 is mainly a respiratory disease and research on similar viruses shows tobacco smoke increases the risks of this type of infection, and how serious it can be.
Suzanne Cass, CEO of ASH Wales, said:
We know that giving up smoking can be incredibly tough but there really is no more important time to quit. The health benefits kick in within minutes of stubbing out that last cigarette and continue to grow with time.
Business leaders and lawyers have called on the Ministry of Justice to grant early release to prisoners convicted of non-violent offences and those who are medically vulnerable and at risk of catching Covid-19 in jail.
In a letter coordinated by the Responsible Business Initiative for Justice, the government is being urged to free on temporary licence elderly inmates, those with six months or less still to serve, pregnant women and those awaiting trial on non-violent charges – “unless there is clear and convincing evidence an individual would present a current and unreasonable risk to the physical safety of the community”.
The devolved government in Northern Ireland on Monday announced that it would begin releasing prisoners early in similar categories to reduce the risk of mass infections in jails. Several inmates from British jails have already died.
The letter to the justice secretary, Robert Buckland QC, has been signed by leading business figures, such as Martha Lane Fox, as well as prominent lawyers and penal reformers. It states:
To continue detaining these vulnerable inmates is tantamount to a death sentence for many. It presents an unacceptable risk of infection to inmates, prison staff and the general public…
Once infected, many elderly and other vulnerable prisoners stand to become extremely ill and die. Current estimates project fatalities exceeding 1 percent of the incarcerated population, amounting to over 800 deaths.
Just one person carrying Covid-19 can infect dozens of others in close quarters. Every single day, thousands of British citizens go to work inside our prisons then return to their communities. Any outbreaks inside facilities will quickly spread to the surrounding areas, causing unnecessary suffering and preventable deaths.
Chris Daw QC, a barrister at Serjeants’ Inn who is one of the signatories, reiterated that Covid-19 is “a death sentence for many elderly and vulnerable inmates”. He said:
Releasing them isn’t just about public health, it’s about human rights.