Hundreds dead in Iran after consuming methanol thinking it was coronavirus protection

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More than 300 people have died and a further 1,000 have fallen ill in Iran after consuming methanol in the belief that it will protect them against the coronavirus, according to local media.

Fake remedies have spread across Iranian social media, with methanol simply the latest supposed cure. As an Islamic nation, the consumption of alcohol is banned, but bootleggers have distributed industrial alcohol.

“Other countries have only one problem, which is the new coronavirus pandemic,” said Dr. Hossein Hassanian, an adviser to Iran’s Health Ministry who claimed that the problem could be more severe than reported. “We have to both cure the people with the alcohol poisoning and also fight the coronavirus.”

An Iranian army soldier walks past rows of beds at a temporary 2,000-bed hospital for COVID-19 coronavirus patients set up by the army at the international exhibition center in northern Tehran, Iran, on Thursday, March 26, 2020.

An Iranian army soldier walks past rows of beds at a temporary 2,000-bed hospital for COVID-19 coronavirus patients set up by the army at the international exhibition center in northern Tehran, Iran, on Thursday, March 26, 2020. (AP)

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The government downplayed the crisis ahead of a parliamentary election, leaving the Iranian people with little trust in their lawmakers.

“Unfortunately in some provinces, including Khuzestan and Fars, deaths from drinking methanol has exceeded the number of deaths by the new coronavirus,” Hassanian said.

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Iranian social media accounts falsely suggested a British school teacher and others cured themselves of the coronavirus with whisky and honey. Due to reports on the effectiveness of hand sanitizer in combating coronavirus, many started to consume industrial alcohol such as methanol in the belief it would protect them.

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Iran has reported over 29,000 confirmed cases and more than 2,200 deaths from the virus, the highest toll of any country in the Middle East.

International experts, though, fear Iran may be under-reporting its cases.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report.