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India: 9 die drinking sanitizer amid COVID alcohol ban

July 31, 2020

At least nine people are reported to have died in southern India after drinking hand sanitizer as a substitute for alcohol. Alcohol stores were closed as part of a local lockdown to curb a rise in COVID-19 cases.

Two unmarked bottles of hand sanitizer. (Photo illustration by Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto illustration)
Image: picture-alliance/NurPhoto/J. Arriens

Local police said on Friday that at least nine men had died after drinking alcohol-based hand sanitizer as a substitute for alcohol. 

Members of the group were reported to have lost consciousness after drinking a "high quantity" of the sanitizer mixed with water.

"Some people who are heavily addicted to alcohol had been consuming hand sanitizers for the high," said Siddharth Kaushal, the top police official for the town of Kurichedu, where the incident took place. "Alcohol is not available because of the lockdown, but hand sanitizers are easily available."

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Those who died, some of whom had other health conditions, were said to have been dead on arrival after they were rushed to hospital. Others from the group survived and were later discharged.

Deaths from tainted alcohol are relatively commonplace in India, where home brewed liquor is often sold as a cheap alternative to official products. Mixtures often contain methanol – a highly toxic form of alcohol that can cause blindness and death.

India's federal government has allowed most economic activities across the country to cushion the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic. 

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Certain states, such as Andhra Pradesh where Kurichedu is located, have been isolating certain hot spots where coronavirus numbers are higher. While the overall rate for India has increased threefold over a month, the increase in Andhra Pradesh is ninefold.

Infections across India jumped by 55,078 in the past 24 hours, with a daily death toll of 779.

Delhi's street children

rc/msh (AFP, Reuters)