MOSCOW – A state of emergency has been introduced in the Siberian city of Irkutsk on Monday after at least 33 people died of alcohol poisoning from consuming a bath lotion.
The sale of lotions and tinctures containing alcohol has been on the rise in recent years in Russia as the country's economy has struggled in the face of the sanctions and a slide in oil prices. Poisonings involved cheap surrogate alcohol are a regular occurrence, but the Irkutsk case was the deadliest such incident in years.
While local officials in Irkutsk introduced a state of emergency in a desperate bid to prevent more deaths, Russia's top investigative agency opened a probe into the incident and arrested several people suspected of involvement in the sales of the lotion.
President Vladimir Putin's spokesman described the mass poisoning as a "terrible tragedy," adding that the president was being briefed about the situation.
Irkutsk's regional government said the victims had died of methanol poisoning after consuming the bath lotion. The death toll has grown quickly since Sunday, and at least 15 remain hospitalized in a grave condition, officials said.
Officials said the bottles with the lotion were clearly marked with warnings that they weren't for internal use.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told a Cabinet meeting that authorities need to quickly ban such substances. "It's an outrage, and we need to put an end to this," he said in televised remarks.