PRAGUE, The Czech Republic (AP) — The Czech Republic has taken an unprecedented emergency measure and banned the sale of spirits with more than 20 per cent alcohol content as it battles a wave of methanol poisonings that has already killed 19 people.
Health Minister Leos Heger said yesterday the ban was effective immediately and applies nationwide. It covers all possible sales locations, including restaurants, hotels, stores and the Internet.
Kiosks and markets had earlier been banned from selling spirits with more than 30 per cent alcohol content, but Heger said the measure has not been effective enough because "an absolute majority" of people who have been poisoned bought the toxic alcohol in restaurants, bars and stores.
Heger said the ban could possibly take weeks. It is estimated that up to 20 per cent of all the liquor in restaurants across the country is likely made on the black market.
That the death toll from the poisonings reached 19 yesterday after a 66-year-old woman was found dead in the northeastern city of Havirov and the first person was hospitalised in Prague also prompted the minister to take the step, Heger said in a brief statement late yesterday.
Police said a 30-year-old man has been in critical condition in a Prague after buying toxic booze in a shop.
Dozens of people have been hospitalised, some in critical condition after drinking vodka and rum laced with methanol. The problem has appeared largely centred in northeastern Czech Republic.
Methanol is mainly used for industrial purposes, but unscrupulous criminal networks sometimes misuse it to illegally produce cheap liquor because it's cheap and impossible to distinguish from real drinking alcohol.
Labs all across the country have been testing round the clock samples of suspicion alcohol that has been seized during police raids.
Thousands of litres of illegal alcohol have been seized and almost 20 people arrested, but police spokeswoman Stepanka Zatloukalova said yesterday it still wasn't clear what the sources are for the worst methanol poisoning "in decades."