Spirited response: Irish gin distillery turns hand to sanitiser

Spirited response: Irish gin distillery turns hand to sanitiser

"You could say it's a very, very strong gin," said managing director Bronagh Conlon. "We would absolutely not recommend anybody to drink it"

DROGHEDA (IRELAND) - The gin stills of the Listoke Distillery have been repurposed in the fight against the coronavirus, producing precious hand sanitiser currently in vanishingly short supply across Ireland.

"Basically we're actually using the same ingredients -- so for all intents and purposes you could say it's a very, very strong gin," managing director and co-founder Bronagh Conlon told AFP.

"We would absolutely not recommend anybody to drink it."

Staff at the distillery and gin school in Tenure, in eastern Ireland north of Dublin, originally began production of sanitiser with 64 percent alcohol, with the same aroma of juniper botanicals as their artisanal spirit, for in-house use.

But as the COVID-19 emergency escalated, they started selling bottles to the public for 10 euros ($11) each. They also donate bottles to frontline homelessness charities.

Conlon estimates they have sold 2,000 litres or 3,500 to 4,000 bottles of the product since Saturday, providing a vital boost to the fight against infection.

"It's just a way that we can all help," said Conlon, 55. "It's absolutely uncharted waters for everybody."

- A welcome tonic -

On Wednesday, staff worked frantically to serve customers at a hastily erected sales table stacked with sanitiser and gin, with supplies of the former nearly sold out.

"Keep warm with that gin, and keep clean with the hand sanitiser," a staff member joked with one customer who bought a bottle of each.

Customers queued out of the front door of the warehouse distillery and into the car park of the industrial estate outside, obeying strict "social distancing" measures recommended by the government in Dublin.

One elderly customer sported a surgical mask as she made her purchase.

Ireland has had two deaths from COVID-19 and 292 confirmed cases, according to health department figures released Tuesday night.

Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has estimated Ireland may count 15,000 cases by the end of March and put out a call to qualified healthcare workers currently not working in the sector to return.

"Tonight I know many of you are feeling scared and overwhelmed," he said in a rare televised address to the nation on Tuesday night.

"That is a normal reaction, but we will get through this and we will prevail."

Pubs, schools and universities have been closed; gatherings of more than 100 have been curbed; and working from home has been encouraged across Ireland.

- Keeping spirits high -

Ministers have assured the public there is no need to stockpile or panic buy as face masks, hand sanitisers and soap have been stripped from supermarket shelves.

As a breast cancer survivor, Conlon is particularly aware of the plight of those who are medically vulnerable to the infection.

"What we've sold is a fraction of what's needed," she said.

"It's really, really worrying the amount of people that are out there that are so worried, they have no access... to hand sanitisers.

"It's terrible -- it's absolutely frightening."

Clutching one bottle each of hand sanitiser and gin outside the distillery customer Una Hatch, 70, said the former was "very badly needed".

"You can't get it anywhere," she said.

"I think it's great -- a great idea of somebody thinking outside the box," she said of the distillery's initiative.

"It's bringing out the best in people I think."

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