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People stand in line at a PEI Liquor store, in Charlottetown, on March 18, 2020.

John Morris/The Globe and Mail

Prince Edward Island’s decision to close all liquor and cannabis stores caused a panicked buying spree as people tried to stock up amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

The announcement that the stores would close at 2 p.m. Thursday created long lineups around the province, prompting PEI’s Chief Public Health Officer to scold Islanders for ignoring social distancing guidelines.

What to buy (not stockpile) if you’re worried about the coronavirus

“I’m disappointed in Islanders’ response in the last three hours,” Heather Morrison said at a Wednesday evening news conference. “We have talked about social distancing, we have talked about the importance of staying at home unless it’s essential, and that appears to have been ignored in the last three hours.

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“Perhaps we underestimated that alcohol is considered essential for some people,” Ms. Morrison said.

The provincial government is looking at alternative ways for Islanders to access liquor and cannabis products, including online orders or drive-up service. Ms. Morrison promised more details Thursday.

PEI has declared a state of emergency in response to the outbreak, ordering all non-essential businesses to close until further notice. The closure of the 17 government-owned liquor and cannabis stores across the island is a step further than any other government in Atlantic Canada has taken.

The Newfoundland and Labrador Liquor Corp. is limiting the number of customers that can be in a store at one time by closing the stores to all but order pickups beginning Saturday. Nova Scotia’s liquor and cannabis stores are reducing their hours. And New Brunswick’s liquor stores are no longer accepting cash – even though the Bank of Canada has asked retailers to stop that practice.

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