“The prohibition could be in force for a few months,” headlines Mladá Fronta DNES after the ban on the sale of beverages containing more than 20 percent alcohol was brought in on Friday, September 14, by the Czech Minister of Health. In the wake of a wave of poisonings from adulterated alcohol that started on September 6 and has caused 21 deaths across the country, bottled spirits have disappeared from shops, restaurants and bars. Most of the victims identified are from areas bordering Poland, in Moravia-Silesia and the regions of Zlín and Olomouc. So far the police have arrested 23 producers and distributors suspected of having added methanol to the drinks and are hunting for all the sources of the adulterated alcohol.
According to Lidové noviny, which published the initial results of the investigation, “the poison comes from Poland, from washer fluid with antifreeze” meant for automobiles. Police suspect that the producers used methanol from Poland. “Back in July, Gazeta Wyborcza revealed that methanol, three times cheaper than the ethanol used formerly, but toxic, has been used since 2010 to make windshield washer fluid to save money.” Some unscrupulous Czech producers of spirits, who appear to have ignored the switch, continued to get the anti-freeze fluid from Poland to make their drinks.
The wave of poisoning recognises no borders and is spreading to neighbouring countries. “The poisoning is also hitting our country,” led the Slovak daily SME on September 17, reporting eight cases of methanol poisoning hospitalised in the city of Prešov on September 16, while there are already four dead in Poland. The Polish health authorities have announced a prohibition on strong alcohol from the Czech Republic.
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“It is in the public interest that the prohibition end as soon as possible,” comments Lidové Noviny, since it is costing the state an estimated 750 million kronor (30 million euros) per month in taxes. According to figures published by Hospodářské Noviny, 155,000 litres of spirits are sold every day in the Czech Republic.