COVID-19 Coronavirus – Where is all the hand sanitiser?
Supermarkets and shops all over the world have no hand sanitiser on their shelves, they are struggling to find a supply and there are a number of people selling online for way over the odds. I’ve seen companies specifically set up just to sell hand sanitiser to make a ‘quick buck’ during this pandemic, once this is all over said companies will shut down to never be seen or heard of again.
The government advises that we all must wash our hands and use hand sanitiser, but a lot of people are struggling to find any.
If everyone in the world had one small bottle of sanitising gel, we would need at least 385 million litres! However, this is a small figure compared to what healthcare professionals will get through during the Coronavirus pandemic. The World Health Organisation (WHO) expects them to need 2.9 billion litres of sanitiser per month. That’s nearly 35 billion litres a year.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the world produced just under three billion litres per year. This perhaps explains why there is now a problem getting hold of it. The demand is through the roof, but the supply is limited.
If you search the internet, you will find various sellers selling hand sanitiser for nearly 10 times the usual. For example you may see 500ml bottles priced at £30, which only a few weeks ago (pre-pandemic) was just £3.
It’s easy to accuse sellers like these of profiteering, however you must look at the bigger picture. Due to the increase in demand, the cost of production has risen. Manufactures are having to buy in more machines to mass produce, along with more employees working around the clock 18 hours a day. This comes at a fair price which will reflect in the price of the hand sanitiser. Bottles and containers that usually come from China are now having to be sourced locally, which again is more expensive. The price of Alcohol has increase dramatically which is the key ingredient in sanitiser. For a tonne of ethanol, the normal going rate is around £700 per tonne. This has now shot up to around £10,000 which is more than 10 times the original price.
So with all of the above, you have to remember the manufacturers cost has risen; which means the distributors and resellers cost price goes up. Yes there are companies who are selling way over the odds, but some companies who are getting accused of profiteering have had to increase their price in line with increase in cost.
If sanitisers aren’t made from ethanol, they are made from isopropyl alcohol, also known as IPA. There are a limited number of companies that produce these types of alcohol at an industrial scale. The biggest producers are in China, France, Germany, the Netherlands, the UK and the US. In France the government has instructed that all IPA made in their country cannot leave and must stay within the borders. Other countries could easily follow suit.
Some say this is pretty extreme in Europe and that we should all be as one. Any country that doesn’t have it’s own supply of these alcohols could run out of sanitiser very soon.
This explains why drinks companies such as Pernod Ricard, who makes Absolut Vodka, Diageo, who makes Johnnie Walker whisky and other smaller companies around the world are now providing alcohol to be used for making sanitiser, or are planning on making it themselves.
The Indian government has expressly asked the alcoholic drinks industry and the sugarcane industry to provide ethanol to hand sanitiser companies. There is enough alcohol out there to make a huge amount of hand sanitiser, it’s just being used in different industries.