By Emma Batha
LONDON, March 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Small gin distilleries across Britain have started producing hand sanitiser to help vulnerable people protect themselves from coronavirus amid a national shortage in a trend mirrored across the globe from Australia to the United States.
Australian cricketer Shan Warne announced on Thursday that his gin distillery would be making sanitiser for hospitals, while scientists at a Swedish university are producing sanitiser with ethanol normally used for preserving animals and plants.
In Britain, where the virus is estimated to have infected tens of thousands of people and triggered emergency measures, many pharmacies have run out of sanitiser, with shortages fuelled by panic-buying.
One distillery in the west of England is now handing out 100ml bottles in return for an optional donation to charity.
"We're giving it away to vulnerable people - it's our response to stock-piling and price-gouging," Psychopomp and Circumstance co-director Liam Hirt told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"We don't want to make any money out of the crisis. We've all got vulnerable people in our lives."
He said the company had raised 1,000 pounds ($1,200) for the Bristol Children's Hospital in one week.
Artisanal gin companies have proliferated across Britain in recent years as the drink, once dubbed "mother's ruin", has enjoyed a huge resurgence in popularity.
The government announced on Wednesday it was fast-tracking applications from companies, including distilleries, to make denatured alcohol for use in sanitisers.
Distilleries can make sanitisers by mixing very pure alcohol with glycerol and hydrogen peroxide, in line with a formula recommended by the World Health Organization.
Another distillery in central England said it was ramping up production of sanitisers to donate to vulnerable people, including the elderly and those with underlying health problems.
"With some very tough times ahead for us all we want to put our talents and resources to good use," Matt Felgate, owner of the Lincoln Distillery, said on Facebook.
Independent brewer BrewDog also announced it was making a sanitiser called Punk Sanitiser at its distillery in Scotland.
"We want to do all we can to help everyone get through this difficult time," BrewDog founder James Watt tweeted. "We will not be selling the sanitiser. But giving it away to those who need it."
In Australia, Warne and his business partners announced they were halting production of their SevenZeroEight gin in order to focus on producing sanitiser.
"This is a challenging time for Australians and we all need to do what we can to help our healthcare system combat this disease and save lives," Warne said in a statement.
In Chicago, Koval Distillery said it was producing sanitiser to help "the medical community, retirement homes and those on the front lines in this war against COVID-19".
In Sweden, chemists at Stockholm University are also making sanitiser, some of it with ethanol donated by the Swedish Museum of Natural History. ($1 = 0.8535 pounds) (Reporting by Emma Batha @emmabatha; Editing by Belinda Goldsmith. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)