MEXICO CITY (AP) — Authorities said as many as 40 people died after drinking methanol in two states in central Mexico, the latest in a series of mass bad-alcohol poisonings registered since coronavirus lockdowns began and many towns banned legitimate liquor sales.
In the township of Chiconcuautla in Puebla state, Mayor Artemio Hernández said Wednesday that at least 18 people had died of presumed methanol poisoning, but the city’s Facebook page put the number at 25.
The state government said it had closed the stores where the suspect liquor was sold, and seized about 50 gallons (200 liters) of it. Hernández said the suspect liquor was a little-known brand called “Refino,” which translates roughly as “very fine.”
Puebla state Interior Secretary David Méndez said the victims may have drunk the contaminated liquor at a funeral over the weekend where as many as 80 people gathered. Such large-scale funerals have supposedly been prohibited under social distancing measures aimed at fighting the pandemic.
And in Morelos state, south of Mexico City, inspectors seized four five-gallon (20-liter) jugs of unlabeled alcohol that was believed to be the cause of 15 poisoning deaths in the hamlet of Telixtac and a nearby town. The dead were 14 men and one woman.
The two incidents were just the latest mass poisonings.
In late April, 25 people died in the state of Jalisco after drinking a cheap brand of cane alcohol known as “El Chorrito.” And local media reported another seven people died of methanol poisoning recently in the Yucatan village of Acanceh, but authorities did not immediately respond to requests for information to confirm that incident.
It is unclear if the poisonings are related to the new coronavirus lockdowns. Authorities have not said whether people drank the adulterated booze because legitimate liquor was unavailable or whether the economic effects of the lockdown have forced people to turn to cheaper bootleg versions.
Methanol is a poisonous cousin of the ethanol alcohol present in normal liquors and cannot be smelled or tasted in drinks. It causes delayed organ and brain damage, and its symptoms include chest pain, nausea, hyperventilation, blindness and even coma.