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Home / World News / From Scotch to sanitiser: Covid-19 shakes, stirs industry

From Scotch to sanitiser: Covid-19 shakes, stirs industry

There are currently 133 Scotch whisky distilleries operating in Scotland, shipping 1.3 billion bottles to 175 markets around the world, including India.

world Updated: May 23, 2020 16:58 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
Worker Seb of Manchester Gin Distillery, uses machinery to produce hand sanitiser for nightingale hospitals, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), Manchester, Britain, May 6, 2020.
Worker Seb of Manchester Gin Distillery, uses machinery to produce hand sanitiser for nightingale hospitals, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (Covid-19), Manchester, Britain, May 6, 2020. (REUTERS)

Scotch whisky is one of the UK’s largest export sectors, but the coronavirus pandemic has spiked it to such an extent that 87 per cent of distilleries in Scotland have either closed entirely or are operating at reduced capacity – many producing hand sanitisers in bulk.

There are currently 133 Scotch whisky distilleries operating in Scotland, shipping 1.3 billion bottles to 175 markets around the world, including India. The industry contributes over £ 5 billion to the UK economy, but the figures are set to be more sober in the current year.

According to the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA), the industry has significantly scaled-back operations to protect the safety of workforce during the pandemic. Many have switched to producing hand sanitisers and ethanol to support health services.

“All sites that continue to operate have strict social distancing in place to protect employees…87% of production sites are either operating at reduced capacity or have closed entirely,” the SWA says in its latest analysis of the industry.

Latest estimates show that a number of companies are either manufacturing hand sanitiser on-site or providing high strength ethanol to other manufacturers, amounting to 14.1 million litres – enough to make around 56 million bottles of hand sanitisers.

“The outlook for our sector, as for many others, is uncertain. The collapse of global hospitality, tourism and travel retail sectors is a very real concern and this year we are likely to experience a significant downturn in exports”, the SWA adds.

The SWA has long been campaigning for improved market access to India, where Scotch whisky is estimated to account for barely 1% of its 300 million-case market. India imposes 150% tariff, besides other levies by state governments.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has often remarked that Scotch whisky would be one of the top items in talks on a free trade agreement with India after Brexit. In 2019, Scotch whisky exports to India were worth £166 million (19.7% rise on 2018 figures) based on shipping 131 million bottles (16.1% rise on 2018).

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