15 Sep 2012

Czech spirits ban tightened after bootleg booze kills 19

The Czech government bans sales of spirits containing more than 20 per cent alcohol following the deaths of 19 people from methanol poisoning.

The Czech Republic has banned the sale of spirits indefinitely after 19 people died after consuming bootleg liquor (Reuters)

Dozens of people have been hospitalised, some in a critical condition, after drinking vodka and rum laced with methanol. The problem appears largely to affect the north east of the Czech Republic.

Health Minister Leos Heger said the ban was effective immediately and applies nationwide. It covers all possible sales locations, including restaurants, hotels, stores and the internet.

A previous ban affected liquor with a 30 per cent alcohol content and only applied to kiosks and stalls.

Methanol poisonings have already claimed 19 lives in the country. Some people have gone blind and other tens of people are in hospital. The minister said that ban had proved to be “insufficient”.

Mr Heger said the ban also applies to drinks and cocktails mixed from spirits.

Restaurants “offering death”

Czech photographer Walter Novak told Channel 4 News: “Fake alcohol has been a problem here forever but they haven’t made the mistake with methanol before.

“It’s happening so much that it’s hard to stop for the government – but now that it has gone wrong, they are freaking out and have made this ban. This will slow down the process but I am sure the fake alcohol will still be out there – it’s scary but there could be more deaths.”

“People in Prague the general attitude is they are making fun of the ban, they don’t care – but it is all banned above 20 per cent in the shops and bars. In the supermarket, the alcohol has been taken off the shelves and they are empty.

He joked: “Nobody knows how long it is going to last but it is causing trouble – the Czechs like their liquor. But on the other hand ordinary alcoholics like me are happy with the beer.”

A case of poisoning reported on Friday involved alcohol bought in the capital, Prague, and is thought to point to another probable “distribution canal.” Previously, a majority of cases happened in the Moravia-Silesia region.

And Walter Novak says this lack of traceability of the contaminated booze is a big issue: “The problem is the government still doesn’t know where the poisonous stuff is coming from. I saw a restaurant yesterday offering if you buy some food, you get a free shot – that could be basically offering somebody death because we don’t know where the bad alcohol is.”