Turks complain of cologne shortage in precautions against coronavirus

Turks complain of cologne shortage in precautions against coronavirus
Shops in Turkey are selling out of cologne as the country prepares for a battle against coronavirus.
3 min read
24 March, 2020
Turkey's shops are running out of cologne [Getty]

As the Western world scurries to find hand sanitisers in a bid to tackle coronavirus, Turkey is selling out of cologne which has for generations been used as a disinfectant. 

Cologne is traditionally seen as a symbol of hospitality, as well as an aid to hygiene, in a country that sets great store by both.

Many Turks believe cologne, which has a high alcohol content, is effective in keeping hands and faces clean and thus warding off the risk of the deadly disease.

Long queues could be seen outside cologne shops in Istanbul's busy spice market, in the historic Eminonu district, in early March before Turkey announced its first confirmed case.

Shops and pharmacies have recently put up signs reading "cologne sold out". 

People are commonly seen sprinkling cologne into their hands in the middle of the street, while taxi drivers offer doses to their clients.

An association in the northwestern city of Izmit is delivering free cologne as well as bread to the elderly, local media reported.

Selling out

Eyup Sabri Tuncer, a leading traditional cologne maker, said it has received tens of thousands of orders in recent weeks.

"In order for a healthy delivery to the customers... we have temporarily suspended further online orders," company official Atilla Ariman said. 

Bottles of cologne have flown off the shelves since Health Minister Fahrettin Koca urged Turks to use the liquid as an alternative hand sanitiser against the virus.

One user, Ilyas Gocdu, said he is using cologne three times more than before. "I believe it is more effective against germs as it contains alcohol," he said. 

Demand is so great that a black market has developed for both cologne and other hand sanitisers, with Istanbul police raiding a manufacturing plant last week to confiscate products made "unhealthily". 

Announcing his government's economic stimulus package last week, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said face masks as well as cologne would be handed out free to people aged 65 and over.

Turkey has so far recorded 37 coronavirus-related deaths and 1,529 cases.

'A good hand sanitiser'

The belief that cologne is effective as a sanitising agent is rooted in many Middle Eastern cultures, but some scientists have backed the theory.

Professor Bulent Ertugrul, board member of the Turkish Society of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases, said alcohol can destroy the outer membrane of the coronavirus. 

"As alcohol is a good solvent, it destroys this lipid envelope," he said.

Ertugrul said the best protection against the new coronavirus is washing one's hands after contact with the environment.

But he added: "If soap and water are not available, using a hand sanitiser that is at least 60 percent alcohol can help."

Cologne fits the bill, he said.

"As we know, cologne contains at least 70 percent alcohol," he said.

"That's why it is a good hand sanitiser against COVID-19."

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