Another illicit alcohol tragedy as dozens killed in Mexico

Dozens of people have died across Mexico since late April after drinking tainted alcohol, according to local news reports, with some putting the toll at more than 100.

If confirmed that number of fatalities would make the incident one of the worst involving alcohol poisoning on record, topping the fatalities seen in high-profile cases in India, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey and Costa Rica in the last few years.

It seems people in the latest case started to fall ill on Sunday, when Mexico celebrated Mother’s Day, with the outbreak of fatalities concentrated in the states if Morelos and Puebla. One of the worst affected groups seems to be members of the indigenous community in Telixtac.

At the moment the source of the poisonings hasn’t been established, although fingers are being pointed at pop-up sellers based in tents selling a bootleg liquor known as “refino” during the celebrations, particularly in the vicinity of the village of Axochiapan.

There are reports that the economic lockdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic – and the resulting reductions in access to alcoholic drinks from legitimate retailers – may be driving people to source drink more frequently from unlicensed sources.

Some states in Mexico have banned the sale of alcohol in an attempt to discourage people from gathering in groups that undermine social distancing measures. Alcohol producers have also been forced to close in Mexico as they are considered non-essential businesses.

In most cases, illicit alcohol poisoning occurs as a result of high levels of methanol, a contaminant that can cause permanent blindness by destruction of the optic nerve and can be fatal at higher levels of exposure.

A 2018 report by Euromonitor suggested that a quarter of alcohol sold in emerging markets is illicit, with hot spots in Latin America, Eastern Europe and Africa.

The study suggested more than 10m litres of illicit alcohol is being consumed each year in 24 countries around the world, leading to a collective loss of revenues of around $3.6bn a year and damaging the reputation of legitimate manufacturers.

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