Dozens in Iran die from drinking bootleg alcohol to prevent coronavirus infection: reports

Dozens of people in Iran died after drinking industrial-strength alcohol amid rumors it would prevent them from contracting the coronavirus, according to reports Tuesday.

The state-run Islamic Republic News Agency, or IRNA, reported Tuesday that 44 people had died from alcohol poisoning in the country after they "drank bootleg alcohol over rumors that it would be effective in treating coronavirus.” But the semi-independent Mehr News Agency reported a lower figure – at least 27 people dying in Iran from alcohol poisoning amid the coronavirus scare.

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Drinking, selling or buying alcohol has been outlawed in Iran for all citizens, except for some non-Muslim minorities, since the establishment of the Islamic Republic government in 1979.

A woman wearing a face mask crosses an intersection in northern Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, March 4, 2020. With deaths spiking in Iran and Italy and infections spreading quickly through Europe, the Mideast and the Americas, countries were considering new drastic measures to curb the new coronavirus that first emerged in China. 

A woman wearing a face mask crosses an intersection in northern Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, March 4, 2020. With deaths spiking in Iran and Italy and infections spreading quickly through Europe, the Mideast and the Americas, countries were considering new drastic measures to curb the new coronavirus that first emerged in China.  (AP)

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People reportedly were drinking bootleg alcohol made from methanol, which is found in antifreeze, solvent and fuel, in a failed attempt to prevent infection. That kind is far more toxic than ethanol, the kind of alcohol safe to drink.

More than two hundred people were hospitalized in the southwestern province of Khuzestan after drinking bootleg alcohol, Ali Ehsanpour, a spokesman for Ahwaz University of Medical Sciences, told Mehr News Agency, according to ABC News.

Most of the deaths from alcohol poisoning occurred in this region, IRNA reported, according to CBS News. Meanwhile, 18 people died after becoming ill with the actual COVID-19 virus in the same Khuzestan province. Additional alcohol poisoning deaths were recorded in the northern region of Alborz and in the western region of Kermanshah.

The Iranian Health Ministry announced Tuesday that a total of 8,042 people contracted the novel coronavirus since the outbreak in the country, according to Tasnim News Agency, a private news agency in Iran. It added that 2,731 individuals in that group have since recovered.

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The health ministry recorded 54 additional people died from the virus as of Tuesday, raising Iran’s death toll to 291.

Also Tuesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping visited the city of Wuhan, the epicenter of the coronavirus located in the Hubei province, for the first time since the outbreak began. The entire country of Italy, the worst-hit nation after China, placed its entire population under lockdown to curb the spread of the virus.