Czechs ban spirits after bootleg alcohol poisoning

Spirits cleared from shelves in Prague. 14 Sept 2012 Stores began clearing shelves soon after the ban was announced

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The Czech government has banned the sale of all spirits containing more than 20% alcohol following a spate of poisoning that has left 19 people dead.

The ban covers all outlets including restaurants and hotels.

The poisonings have been blamed on bootleg vodka and rum tainted with the industrial chemical methanol and sold cheaply at markets and outdoor kiosks.

Czech police have arrested 10 people and seized 5,000 litres of spirits, as well as counterfeit labels.

Health Minister Leos Heger said the unprecedented ban was effective immediately and applied nationwide.

"Operators of food and beverage businesses... are banned from offering for sale (and) selling... liquor containing alcohol of 20% and more," he announced on national television.

The deaths - which began to emerge earlier this month - have been described as the Czech Republic's worst case of fatal alcohol poisoning in 30 years.

The BBC's Rob Cameron in Prague says that with the number of reported deaths slowing, attention is focusing on saving those who survived drinking the tainted alcohol and finding those who bottled it in the first place.

Detectives have suggested they are dealing with well-organised bootleggers, although the people at the very top of the organisation have so far eluded capture.

Meanwhile, about 30 people are being treated in hospital for methanol poisoning.

Some of those taken to hospital have gone blind and others have been put into artificial comas by doctors.

Norway has donated an antidote called fomepizole and several cases of the solution were taken to Prague by Dr Knut Erik Hovda, a toxins expert from the Nuclear, Biological and Chemical Centre in Oslo.

He told the BBC that if victims are admitted early enough to hospital their chances of survival are good.

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