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From beer to bugs: Murree Brewery offers to make sanitizer

Punjab excise department processing applications

SAMAA | - Posted: Apr 2, 2020 | Last Updated: 2 years ago
Posted: Apr 2, 2020 | Last Updated: 2 years ago

Photo: Courtesy Murree Brewery

Murree Brewery has offered to mass produce and sell hand sanitizer with 70 percent alcohol to help fight the coronavirus outbreak in Pakistan.  

The company’s chief executive has applied to Punjab government’s excise department for permission and is likely to hear back in a day or so.

“[The motivation] is very simple… we wanted to help the country. We buy alcohol so we already have it in stock—where we are making liquor, we can make sanitizers as well,” said Murree Brewery chief Isphandyar Bhandara. “We know how to make it too. When the first few COVID-19 cases started popping up in Pakistan, we made in-house samples for our employees.”

The brewery was set up by the British in 1860, three years after the first war of independence. Bhandara’s grandfather purchased a majority of the shares in the company and since then it has been a family-run business.

At the moment, the company has a staff of 2,200, which includes 800 people who work at the distillery.

The formula, according the chief executive of Pakistan’s biggest manufacturer of alcoholic and non-alcoholic products, is very simple. All you need is: Ethanol, glycerin and food color. “It can be made without colour as well… It’s not complicated,” he said.

Since the brewery sells products with alcohol, it is answerable to the excise and taxation department in Punjab and thus needs an official go-ahead before it puts any sanitizer in the market.

“We haven’t really named it yet or set a price because we still need approval,” Bhandara said. “What I want to do right now is to put it out there. I want to help the country.” What’s more important, he added. “Bureaucratic red tape or saving peoples’ lives?”

According to Bhandara, most of the sanitizers available in the market do not have alcohol.

While they have enough sanitizer to bottle and sell or give out right now, this is just a small kitchen operation. Murree Brewery needs to invest and order machines from China for mass production. And that will take time. 
According to DG Suhail of Punjab excise and taxation, Murree Brewery will get a license to produce sanitizer within a day or so.

“Currently, the market is full of sanitizers which are IPA-based aka anti-bacterial,” he said. “To fight coronavirus, we need something which can fight a virus i.e. is ethanol-based.”

He explained that before this moment there wasn’t any particular need in the market and thus no real understanding of these products. Now, they are trying to create a local supply chain.

“There will be new products soon and we will try to keep the prices stable. However, before anything is introduced, we will sample it,” he added.
So far, the DG said that 20 companies and individuals had approached them for permission to make hand sanitizer in Punjab. “This is a national crisis. We need to help the public as much as you can with regulation.”

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