On Tuesday this week border control cops stopped a van with a shipment of face masks coming through the Channel Tunnel. When they checked the masks they found almost £1 million worth of cocaine tucked in among them. It was a similar story a week earlier. A man called Benjamin Evans was pulled over by the Welsh police on the A40 Brecon bypass. Evans claimed he was a key worker but when the cops searched his car, they discovered nearly £60,000 worth of cocaine. ‘Possession of drugs with intent to supply does not qualify as essential work,’ said the arresting officer. There have been reports recently of a fall in the demand for ‘party drugs’ like cocaine, and of course lockdown has meant a few glitches in the usual supply chains — speed bumps, let’s call them — but the lesson of the face mask shipment and Evans the key worker is that by and large the drug trade remains remarkably unbothered by the Covid crisis.
Unlike the supermarkets, with their efficient but rather delicate just-in-time delivery model, the wholesale end of the coke trade is well used to unexpected catastrophes such as busts, arrests and so on. And according to customs officials, it’s booming like never before — lockdown or otherwise. I saw this myself during a visit a few months ago to the Cape Verde islands, a tiny archipelago off the coast of west Africa that has become a major hub for the transatlantic cocaine trade. Julio Neves, a police inspector with the local drug squad, told me how he’d recently seized ten tonnes of cocaine from the Eser, a Russian-crewed freighter that pulled into his home port. That’s a stash worth nearly half a billion pounds — and enough, at current snorting rates, to meet about a quarter of Britain’s annual coke habit.