MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian retailers have seen a sharp spike in alcohol sales in recent weeks, with consumers rushing to buy vodka, whisky and beer at a time when Moscow and other regions have imposed partial lockdowns to stem the spread of the coronavirus.
In the last week of March, vodka sales across Russia’s largest retail chains jumped 31% in year-on-year terms, while whisky and beer purchases increased 47% and 25% respectively, Nielsen, a market research firm, found.
President Vladimir Putin last week prolonged until April 30 a paid non-working period across Russia, which has so far reported 10,131 cases of the novel coronavirus.
Many Russian companies have asked employees to work at home, some have told them to take unpaid leave, while others have cut salaries or fired people. In Moscow, residents are only allowed to go out to buy food or medicine at a nearby store, get urgent medical help, walk the dog, or take out the trash.
Magnit, one of Russia’s largest food retail chains, said it had seen double-digit growth in alcohol sales since partial lockdowns were introduced across the country.
Lenta and O’Key said alcohol sales had increased by a third.
The manager of a major alcohol supplier said sales of inexpensive imported alcohol had doubled in annual terms since the measures came into force.
“People are grabbing everything they can - vodka, cognac and beer,” said one employee at a budget supermarket in the Moscow region who was restocking shelves with vodka. “People mostly buy whatever is cheapest.”
Sultan Khamzaev, head of Sober Russia which campaigns to reduce alcohol consumption, said the spike in sales was driven by long holidays, stress, fears that alcohol would run out, and a belief among many Russians that alcohol offers some protection against the new coronavirus.
Heavy drinking has long been considered a serious health hazard in Russia, especially among men, but alcohol consumption has fallen sharply over the last decade.
Authorities have called on Russians to refrain from self-medicating with alcohol and said drinking can neither cure COVID-19 or prevent someone catching it.
“Attempting to treat everything with alcohol and delaying medical treatment definitely worsens the situation when a patient arrives (at a hospital), when it is already impossible to save him,” Health Minister Mikhail Murashko said on television this week.
Yet the Ministry of Industry and Trade has called on regions not to set restrictions on the sale of alcohol, citing potential for “serious social tension” if curbs were imposed.
Additional reporting by Rinat Sagdiev and Anastasia Lyrchikova; Writing by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Andrew Osborn and David Holmes
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