published: 12.09.2012, 19:47 | updated: 12.09.2012 19:50:29
Prague - The Czech government today approved a ban on sales of liquors containing more than 30 percent of alcohol in stalls and markets in the whole country, following a series of deaths from drinking bootleg alcohol, Health Minister Leos Heger declared the ban on television this afternoon.
The ban was declared indefinitely.
Methyl alcohol has claimed minimally 16 lives since September 6 when the first three people died. About 30 people have been hospitalised. Some of them are in a critical condition. Those who survive are threatened with life impairment of their health.
Heger said the government is ready to order an absolute "prohibition" unless the source of the bootleg alcohol is found fast enough.
Prime Minister Petr Necas (Civic Democrats, ODS) said after the government meeting today thousands of police, customs officers and inspectors are trying to prevent the spread of the poisonings.
Necas said the government is ready to hold an extraordinary meeting if need be.
He said those who would breach the sales ban would have their facilities closed and would be fined.
Necas warned that the failure to observe an extraordinary measure is tantamount to marring an official act.
"Liquidation of alcohol supplies received from suspicious sources is the most reasonable step now," Heger said.
The first three victims of the tainted alcohol died on September 6. According to the latest information, at least 16 persons have died of methanol (methyl alcohol) poisoning since then and about 30 others are treated in hospital.
Heger called on the governors of the self-rule regions and the mayors of towns and municipalities to actively cooperate with the directors of regional sanitary offices who are responsible for the coordination of all steps taken by state bodies concerning issues related to the ban and methanol poisoning.
Hospitals should report all cases of suspected methanol poisoning, he said.
Earlier today, a crisis team was set up over the rising number of fatalities.
Policemen, sanitary officers and local self-rule authorities warn against drinking of tapped alcoholic beverages or liquors from unstamped bottles of unknown origin.
The source of the methyl alcohol is not known yet. Several hundred of checks in restaurants and other facilities were carried out on Monday and Tuesday.
Apart from the Czech victims, two people recently died after the consumption of alcohol of unknown origin in the Polish town of Kielce.
Lubomir Zaoralek, opposition Social Democrat (CSSD) deputy chairman, said the biggest responsibility for the methanol tragedy rests with Finance Minister Miroslav Kalousek.
Zaoralek said Kalousek and his ministry do not mind that 20 percent of alcohol on the market is illegal, which strips the state of 1.5 billion crowns in concise tax.
Zaoralek also said the government has not reacted to the two-year old finding that the import of methanol to the Czech Republic has tripled.
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