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Dozens die of alcohol poisoning in Mexico amid COVID-19 lockdown

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Dozens die of alcohol poisoning in Mexico amid COVID-19 lockdown
Copyright  Asif HASSAN / AFP
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As many as 40 people have died in central Mexico after drinking poisoned alcohol.

This is the latest in a series of mass alcohol poisonings registered since COVID-19 lockdowns began.

Many towns banned legitimate alcohol sales when they introduced the measure.

In the town of Chiconcuautla, in the state of Puebla, Mayor Artemio Hernández said on Wednesday that at least 18 people had died of presumed methanol poisoning.

However, the city's Facebook page put the number at 25.

Hoy nuestra tierra se viste de luto... Nuestros familiares se van, pero su recuerdo vivirá por siempre en nuestros corazones. Fortaleza para nuestra gente.

Publiée par Chiconcuautla, Puebla, Mexico sur Mercredi 13 mai 2020

The Puebla state government has said it had closed the stores where the suspect alcohol was sold, and seized about 200 litres of it.

According to Hernández, it was a little-known brand called Refino, which means "very fine".

The victims may have drunk the contaminated alcohol at a funeral over the weekend, Puebla state Interior Secretary David Méndez said.

As many as 80 people gathered at the event, despite the ban of large-scale funerals under social distancing measures aimed at fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.

In Morelos state, south of Mexico City, inspectors found four 20-litre jugs of alcohol. It is believed to have caused the death of 15 people (14 men and one woman) in the hamlet of Telixtac and a nearby town.

These two incidents are the latest but not the only mass poisonings to happen in Mexico in recent weeks.

In late April, 25 people died in the state of Jalisco after drinking a cheap brand of cane alcohol known as El Chorrito. Local media also reported another seven people died of methanol poisoning recently in the Yucatan village of Acanceh.

It remains unclear whether these poisonings are related to the COVID-19 lockdown.

Authorities have not said why people drank the poisoned alcohol. It could have been because legitimate alcohol was unavailable or because the economic effects of the lockdown have forced people to turn to cheaper bootleg versions.

Methanol is a poisonous cousin of ethanol, which is present in normal alcoholic drinks and cannot be smelled or tasted. Methanol causes delayed organ and brain damage. Its symptoms include chest pain, nausea, hyperventilation and blindness.