Alcohol-based hand sanitizers - dubbed as one of the key products to keep the virus at bay- are in high demand since the outbreak of COVID-19, caused by a novel coronavirus. However, with liquor shops shut after the imposition of the nationwide lockdown, some alcoholics in Madhya Pradesh's capital city, Bhopal, are turning to the sanitizers due to the significant percentage of alcohol in them.
"The shops are closed, liquor which is available in black market is expensive. My friends told me that the hand sanitizer contains alcohol and they are already drinking it. Since then, we started drinking these hand sanitizers, particularly because they are much cheaper than a normal brand of liquor," said a driver from a slum in south of Bhopal.
"We've been buying these hand sanitizers from the medical shops and drinking them after mixing water. The companies which were manufacturing low-priced liquor are now manufacturing hand sanitizer in the same brand name," he added.
The government today allowed the opening of liquor shops in green and orange zones (but some state governments may choose to keep it closed), in a fresh set of guidelines it issued while extending the lockdown till May 18.
Doctors have warned that over-consumption of sanitizers "could even lead to death".
"Some of the hand sanitizers contain up to 80% alcohol, which is almost double of whisky's alcohol content. The over consumption of hand sanitizer could turn toxic and even lead to death," said Dr Subodh Varshney, Director at Bhopal's Siddhanta Red cross hospital.
Alcohol-based hand sanitizers contain 70 percent alcohol, glycerine and hydrogen peroxide - which is poisonous in nature.
The city unit of the excise department has, however, said they have not received any complaints of people consuming hand sanitizers
"People consuming hand sanitizers in the want of liquor hasn't come to our notice. Maybe the cases could be too few. We only render Extra Neutral Alcohol (ENA) to distilleries. What these distilleries are manufacturing and their quality and safety parameters under WHO guidelines are monitored by the Drug Controller," said Assistant Commissioner of excise Sanjeev Dube.
11 distilleries in Bhopal are manufacturing 79,041 liters of sanitizer since the lockdown. They have been rendered the license to manufacture sanitizers for three months.
Business of illegal liquor sales has also been flourishing in Bhopal and the city police have registered more than 100 cases against bootleggers at various police stations.