Russia Mulls Uncorking Online Alcohol Sales Over Virus

MOSCOW (AFP) — Russia could lift an unpopular ban on alcohol sales online, a top official said Wednesday, as the public are being encouraged to stay at home during the coronavirus pandemic.

Russians cannot legally buy alcohol online and have it delivered because such sales cannot match the rules for physical retail — ID checks and no sales after 11 p.m.

The idea of lifting the ban has been under discussion for several years but lawmakers have rejected proposed legislation.

Deputy Trade and Industry Minister Viktor Yevtukhov told Rossiya 24 television: “A decision on alcohol (sales) was proposed quite a long time ago by the finance ministry, now it’s possible that a speedier decision will be taken.”

The head of Russia’s largest lender Sberbank, German Gref, also backed legalization at a news conference on Tuesday, saying it was “a very important measure” for those who were self-isolating.

He also backed lifting a ban on online sales of nonprescription medicines for people who are ill at home.

“We’re now working with the government and the lower house of parliament to legalize the sales of alcohol and medicines on the internet, of course that’s medicines for the sick and for those who are self-isolating,” he said.

Russia has 147 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, up by almost 29% in the last 24 hours, and most sports and cultural events have been banned.

Some officials and lawmakers oppose liberalization of rules on alcohol sales as likely to encourage people to drink more, however.

During the epidemic, “alcohol is not one of the essential foodstuffs,” senator Valery Ryazansky told TASS state news agency, adding that alcohol could weaken the immune system.

Moscow police chief Oleg Baranov told Moscow city lawmakers that “such things should be categorically banned,” citing the risk of online sales of “poor-quality” drinks, TASS reported.

© Agence France-Presse

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