ZURICH (Reuters) – Calls to domestic violence hotlines in Europe are up by as much as three-fifths as alcohol and drug abuse combine with close confinement in coronavirus lockdowns to fuel abuse of the most vulnerable, the World Health Organization said on Thursday.

The stress and anxiety bred by weeks of restrictions on public life have made uncertainty, separation, and fear part of daily life for many, WHO Regional Director for Europe Hans Kluge said.

Kluge cited reports from many countries including Belgium, Bulgaria, France, Ireland, Russia, Spain and Britain of increases in violence against women and men by an intimate partner and against children because of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Although data is scarce, member states are reporting up to a 60% increase in emergency calls by women subjected to violence by their intimate partners in April this year compared to last,” he told an online briefing from Copenhagen.

Online enquiries to violence prevention hotlines had increased by up to five times, the agency said, calling the issue a global problem.

Kluge noted some countries had provided examples of how to address the issue. Italy has an app to ask for help without a phone call, while victims can alert pharmacists in Spain and France through code words.

Hotels in France and Belgium have converted to shelters, and Greenland has limited the sale of alcohol to make homes safer for children.

“With job losses, rising alcohol-based harm and drug use, stress and fear, the legacy of this pandemic could haunt us for years,” he said.

(Reporting by Michael Shields; Editing by Frances Kerry)