coronavirus st patricks day

Coronavirus outbreak sparks bar closures across the world as St Patrick's Day looms

16 March, 2020

St Patrick’s Day could become a sombre affair this year as bars across the world have been forced to shut their doors due to the coronavirus pandemic.

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe took the unprecedented step of ordering bars, restaurants and cafés to shut up shop at the weekend. Spain swiftly followed suit.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom directed the closure of all bars, wineries, nightclubs and brewpubs in the Golden State and called for all seniors age 65 or older to self-isolate in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus. LA Mayor Eric Garcetti forced restaurants to halt dine-in service.

Chicago officials announced Sunday new restrictions for businesses that sell liquor to have less than half of their regular maximum capacity. They must also cap entrance to 100 people.

There is no official directive from the U.S. federal government, but state officials have taken matters into their own hands. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine tweeted on Sunday that he would bars and restaurants in Ohio to close starting at 9 pm. “Every day we delay, more people will die,” said DeWine. Pennsylvania officials have also urged bars to close their doors.

In Ireland, the government has called on pubs and bars to close in order to help tackle the spread of COVID-19. It is a request rather than an order, but most bars are expected to acquiesce. The government also asked people not to hold house parties, as doing so “would put other people’s health at risk”.

Tomorrow is St Patrick’s Day and city centres across the world typically turn into a sea of green revelry, with Guinness and Irish whiskey flowing freely. This year the celebrations will largely be called off as the world hunkers down and watches the news with grim fascination instead.

There have now been more than 170,000 cases of the novel coronavirus, which first reared its head in Wuhan, China, before Christmas, and has now spread to almost every country in the world.

The death toll has passed the 6,500 mark and it continues to climb. Italy has emerged as the worst hit country outside of China, with some 25,000 cases and more than 1,800 deaths, but COVID-19 is rampaging through Spain, France and other European countries too.

“Europe has now become the epicentre of the pandemic, with more reported cases and deaths than the rest of the world combined, apart from China,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the head of the World Health Organization. “More cases are now being reported every day than were reported in China at the height of its epidemic.”

Government measures around the world to contain the spread of COVID-19 have led to significant financial pain for businesses, pushing stock markets sharply lower.

In London the FTSE 100 was down 7% this morning. Germany’s DAX, Frances’s CAC, Italy’s MIB and Spain’s Ibex fell by between 8% and 9%.

It follows on from last week’s pain, when the S&P 500 suffered its sharpest one-day slump since the 1987 crash, causing the stock market to plunge into bearish territory.

Travel companies and airlines are among the hardest hit, as countries close their borders and advise their citizens not to travel. Airports Council International predicted that airports would lose around $3.7 billion due to a decline in air travel. The travel retail sector has therefore naturally taken a pounding.

Market leader Dufry’s suffered a 41.2% share price slump last week, despite announcing a robust set of 2019 financials, while Lagardère and Autogrill also saw their share prices plummet.

Another casualty is Corona beer, which is facing its worst financial quarter in a decade. Producer AB Inbev said it has lost around $160 million due to consumers shunning the brand since the coronavirus outbreak began.

However, the demand for spirits, wines and beer is unlikely to abate any time soon, and brand owners are scrambling to shore up alternative routes to market. Shoppers have stripped supermarket shelves of dried pasta, hand sanitizer and toilet paper across the world, and now they are turning their attention to liquor.

“It’s been insane,” Vince Grace, a sales associate at Astor Wines & Spirits in Manhattan, told the New York Times. “People are just buying up whatever they can.”

Alcohol delivery services are also enjoying a boon. Drizly, an alcohol-delivery service based in Boston, reported its largest ever day of trading. It said its sales grew by 50% since news of the virus began to spread.

Lisa Rydman, owner of liquor store chain Spec’s in Houston, reported 100% week-on-week growth in online sales. “People are in a kind of state of hysteria, so they’re stocking up, whether in person or delivery,” she said. “We are absolutely seeing people wanting to stock up because they’re getting ready for whatever is coming.”

Mike Maro, owner of Maro Brothers Discount Liquor and vice president of the New Jersey Liquor Store Alliance, said trading is now reminiscent of the peak Christmas period. “It’s almost like a glorified snowstorm, and people are loading up,” he said. “People are going to be sitting home and watching Netflix and drinking alcohol. It calms the nerves.”

Despite an initial surge in sales, three in five UK drinks retailers fear their businesses will be materially impacted by consumers staying indoors due to coronavirus fears. “This could be seriously catastrophic for retail if there’s a lockdown,” said Erik Laan at The Vineking in Surrey.

Half of British drinks retailers surveyed said they would ramp up their focus on ecommerce and home deliveries as a result of the virus. “We hope people will take advantage of home delivery, sit at home with a good bottle of wine and wait it all out,” said Adam Vincent at Dike & Son in Dorset.





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Nick Strangeway

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