Myth of Alcohol as ‘Prevention’ for COVID-19 Drives Sales up in Moscow

As Moscow and other regions have imposed lockdowns to stem the spread of the coronavirus, retailers have seen a sharp spike in alcohol sales in recent weeks, with customers buying liquor as ‘prevention’ against an infection, Reuters reports.

Vodka sales across Russia’s largest retail chains jumped 31% in the last week of March, in year-on-year terms, while whiskеy and beer purchases increased 47% and 25%, respectively, market research firm Nielsen found.

Last week, President Vladimir Putin extended a paid, non-working period until April 30 across Russia, which, by Thursday morning, has reported 10,131 cases of COVID-19.

Many Russian companies have asked employees to work at home, some have told them to take unpaid leave, while others have cut salaries or laid people off. 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 has 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, fear that alcohol would run out, and a belief among many Russians that alcohol offers some protection against the coronavirus.

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.