Australians flocked to bottle shops yesterday, panic-buying alcohol amid confusion over whether they would remain open.
The rush followed announcements from the New South Wales, Victorian and ACT governments, which all indicated they would be forcing “non-essential” services to shut within 48 hours.
It was initially unclear whether bottle shops qualified as “essential” or not.
A large number of customers didn’t wait for answers, and social media was promptly flooded with images of the ensuing frenzy inside stores.
One worker at a bottle shop in Brisbane told The Brisbane Times it was “as busy as Christmas”. If you’ve ever tried to stock up on wine on Christmas Eve, you will have some idea of what that means.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison cleared things up at a press conference later in the evening, specifying which services would be shut and which would remain open.
Registered and licensed clubs, licensed premises in hotels and pubs, entertainment venues, cinemas, casinos, nightclubs, gyms and indoor sporting venues were all told to close.
Restaurants and cafes were restricted to takeaway only.
But bottle shops, including those attached to pubs and clubs, were allowed to stay open.
This morning, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews urged Australians not to use that as an excuse to hold social gatherings at home.
“You won’t be able to go to the pub, because the pub is shut. That doesn’t mean you can have all your mates round to home and get on the beers. That’s not appropriate. It’s not essential, it’s not needed, and all it will do is spread the virus,” Mr Andrews said.
“We had a case last week when a group of people, a dozen or so, went to a dinner party. As best we can tell, the dinner party started with one person who had the coronavirus. By the end of the dinner party, almost everybody at the dinner party had the coronavirus.
“This spreads rapidly. If people simply behave as normal, if they don’t take this seriously, if they act selfishly, then people will die. I can’t be any clearer than that.”
The fate of the bottle shops was also a prominent topic of discussion on the morning shows today.
On Channel 9, Allison Langdon asked One Nation leader Pauline Hanson whether bottle shops really qualified as an “essential” service.
“Panic buying in supermarkets, I mean it’s now spread to bottle shops. We saw shelves being stripped last night,” Langdon said.
“Pauline, serious question, should our breweries and bottle shops remain open? Are they an essential service?”
“Well, I’ve got to be honest, I enjoy my G&T, so anyway. So do a lot of other Australians. So I’m not going to knock that back, of course it’s an essential service to me,” Ms Hanson said.
“If you’re going to have cafes that are open for takeaway food, what’s wrong with the bottle shop being open? Let people buy their bottled wine, or grog, whatever they want to have. They just buy it and they’re out of the shop.
“Why are they any different to a cafe that sells food?”
“If I’m homeschooling three children, then alcohol is absolutely an essential service,” quipped fellow guest Dee Madigan.
Later in the program Matt Swindells, the Chief Operating Officer at Coles, urged Australians to refrain from panic-buying alcohol – or anything else.
“I think that the public broadly has heeded the advice of the Prime Minister, and I’m pleased to report that certainly the shopping through our supermarket business has returned somewhere towards normal, and that’s allowed the teams with all the hard work they’re putting in to get stock back into the system,” Mr Swindells said.
“What I would add – there is still a long way to go, and anybody that has shopped over the weekend would see the gaps on shelves are still there. And so we’ve got to continue this process of normalised demand, pushing more stock than ever, to put the supermarkets back together.
“We’re yet to see a run on bottle shops. It would be really, really sad to think that the learnings from our supermarket shoppers can’t then translate into the bottle shops, and we all hold our nerve and just shop in normal patterns, so we don’t see the same thing happen within liquor.”