Spokesman of Iran's Health Ministry on Monday said 20 people who drank alcohol tainted with methanol (wood spirit) in Khuzestan Province have died of alcohol poisoning. So far coronavirus (COVID-19) has killed 18 in the southwestern province.
According to Kianoush Jahanpour drinking alcoholic drinks containing methanol has poisoned at least 331 and killed 20 in the past 24 hours.
Since the breakout of coronavirus in Iran which was officially declared on February 19, rumors that drinking or gurgling alcohol can prevent coronavirus infection and its spread have widely been circulating among Iranians with some people believing that Russians are protected against the disease by the sheer amount of vodka they drink.
But Dr. Jahanpour said drinking alcohol has no impact on coronavirus and can not prevent it. People just need to follow medical advice to protect themselves from coronavirus, he said.
Drinking alcohol is prohibited by law in Islamic Iran but moonshine and home-made spirits are abundant as well smuggled spirits from neighboring countries. Alcohol tainted with methanol has taken hundreds of lives in Iran over the years but the problem seems to have been aggravated by the rumors of the virtues of alcohol in killing coronavirus.
The poisoned victims in Khuzestan are being treated in three hospitals of Ahwaz, the capital city of the oil-rich province and a fourth hospital is being prepared to receive more patients.
An official of the Justice Department of Khuzestan on Monday told the Islamic Republic News Agency that five people have been arrested for preparing and selling the poisonous drinks.
Three more people have been reported dead in Tehran and seven in Alborz Province of methanol poisoning in the past few days. In many cases victims do not seek medical help when poisoned by alcohol for the fear of being prosecuted.
Shahin Shania, Head of the Poisoning Section of Tehran's Loqman (Loghman) Hospital which is a specialist hospital for treatment of poisoning, said on Monday that the problem is much more widespread than reported and has affected many cities throughout the country.
According to Iran's Health Ministry coronavirus has claimed the lives of 237 Iranians as of March 9 and infected 7,161 others.