The Swiss Had a Pandemic Stockpile of Alcohol. They Got Rid of It in 2018

Source: By Andy Hoffman, Bloomberg • Posted: Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Amid the global coronavirus pandemic, Switzerland’s penchant for preparing for emergencies has won it praise.

During the Cold War, the Swiss government required family homes to have a bunker and instructed citizens to stockpile food. Even today, residents are counseled on what supplies they should have on hand to ride out a crisis at home.

Yet as demand for alcohol used to make hand sanitizer has soared amid the crisis, Switzerland is facing a possible shortage after abandoning its ethanol reserves in 2018.

Daily Tages-Anzeiger reported that the stockpile of 8,000 tons to 10,000 tons of ethanol to make disinfectant in case of a pandemic was gotten rid of two years ago amid efforts to privatize the nation’s alcohol market.

The decision has contributed to shortages of disinfectant products including hand sanitizers. As in many nations, the products vanished from Swiss store shelves weeks ago.

Now private industry from distilleries to Swiss perfume producer Givaudan are cranking out the alcohol-based gels to try and meet consumer needs.

“It cannot be the case that such an important raw material as alcohol is suddenly missing in a pandemic situation,” Swiss federal politician and Christian Democratic Party member, Alois Gmuer told Tages-Anzeiger.

“But unfortunately it fits into the picture: The federal government has obviously neglected crisis preparedness,” he said.

The Swiss Federal Office for National Economic Supply, which is in charge of the stockpiles, didn’t immediately provide a comment to Bloomberg.

A government spokeswoman told Tages-Anzeiger that after liberalizing the alcohol market in 2018, the government wanted to give industry participants time before discussing plans to renew stockpiles. Those discussions were supposed to take place this year but now the coronavirus has intervened.

In the name of emergency preparedness, Switzerland has previously stockpiled essential products including tobacco and metal screws.

Swiss caffeine addicts bristled when the government declared coffee stockpiles not compulsory in 2019.

The government also holds supplies of antibiotics, vaccines, rice, insulin and heating oil.

— With assistance by Catherine Bosley