India allows liquor stores to reopen during new phase of coronavirus lockdown

Liquor stores across India reopened this morning after the country moved into a new phase of its coronavirus lockdown.

The Modi administration included beer and wine retailers in a new list of non-essential businesses that could resume trading. Local leaders were handed the power to decide whether these businesses can reopen on a state-by-state basis, and most gave their approval for off-trade alcoholic beverage sales to recommence.

Social media has been flooded with pictures of Indians cheering outside liquor stores this morning. Some even let off fireworks to mark the occasion.

Lines stretched back more than a kilometre outside some stores. The retailers and the authorities have tried to adhere to social distancing guidelines, but several pictures showed police struggling to maintain those protocols.

It marked the end of a fraught period for Indian tipplers. The country went into an abrupt lockdown on March 24 in order to stop the rampant Covid-19 spread. Bars and retailers were forced to immediately shut down, and that had extreme consequences for many Indians.

The ban on alcohol led to a spike in suicides across many provinces, while a number of Indian drinkers allegedly died after consuming concoctions made from aftershave and paint varnish.

The industry welcomed the new directive from the Indian government. “In the past 40 days, ₹28,000 crore revenue was lost,” said Amrit Kiran Singh, the Chairman of International Spirits and Wine Association of India. “Government wasn’t certain whether the retail sale of alcohol can happen without social distancing. But for instance stores in Assam and Meghalaya opened during lockdown, but were given strict orders that the shops will shut if people don’t follow social distancing.

“In our inputs to the Ministry of Home Affairs, we spoke about the project safe shield, we will ensure that there will be alcohol retailing with social distancing.”