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Covid-19 Swiss face shortage of ethanol for disinfectant after abandoning stockpile

A worker produces disinfecting hand gel

A worker produces disinfecting hand gel based on ethanol and pear brandy at the 'Distillerie Morand' in Martigny, southwest Switzerland, on March 31

(Keystone)

Switzerland risks a shortage of the raw material needed to make disinfectant to tackle the coronavirus pandemic, the Tages-Anzeiger newspaper reportedexternal link on Monday. The country abandoned its emergency reserve of 10,000 tonnes of ethanol two years ago.

Switzerland keeps emergency stockpiles of everything from coffee, wheat and rice to cooking oil. But in 2018, the country ended its long-standing practice of stocking ethanol as part of efforts to privatise the country’s alcohol market, according to the German-language paper.

The decision has contributed to shortages of disinfectant products such as hand sanitisers. They disappeared weeks ago from many store shelves as people stocked up – prompting distilleries, wineries and even beer brewers to begin making disinfectant.

Some Swiss politicians are frustrated by what could have been an avoidable shortage. 

“It just can’t be that an important raw material like alcohol is suddenly missing when a pandemic starts,” said Alois Gmür from the centrist Christian Democratic Party.

Others said the issue must be addressed once the coronavirus crisis has subsided, with some members of the leftwing Social Democratic Party party saying Switzerland needed to invest in emergency reserves rather than the country’s planned CHF6 billion ($6.14 billion) purchase of new fighter jets.

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