UK & World News
Czech Alcohol Deaths: Britain Issues Warning
Travellers to the Czech Republic have been warned to avoid locally-made spirits after a spate of deaths from methanol poisoning.
At least 19 people have died in the country from drinking tainted spirits while a further 36 have been taken to hospital.
The Food Standards Agency (FSA) in Britain said the poisonings were associated with bootleg spirits, including vodka and rum, on sale in markets, restaurants and pubs in the country. They are marketed as "hard liquor", containing more than 20% alcohol.
Poland has already banned the sale of all Czech-made alcohol - except for beer and wine - after five deaths were recorded in the past two weeks, though they were not necessarily linked.
Slovakia also issued a ban after four people were taken to hospital after drinking a bottle of Czech-made plum brandy ordered over the internet.
The Czech Republic itself imposed a blanket ban on the sales of spirits with over 20% alcohol content after on-the-spot tests by officials confirmed high levels of methanol in the spirits.
A health ministry analysis showed most of those affected had drunk one of two types of tainted liquor - vodka or local rum dubbed "tuzemak".
The FSA is advising people to avoid buying or drinking Hanacka Vodka, Vodka Drak, Merunka, Borovicka, Svestkova vodka, Vodka Lunar and Tuzmak.
FSA head of incidents Colin Houston said: "We're advising people to be extra cautious when buying and drinking alcohol in the Czech Republic.
"In particular, we're also warning people who may be bringing the locally-produced alcohol back as souvenirs to be vigilant, as these so-called hard liquors can contain potentially lethal levels of methanol."
The Czech Association of Spirits Producers and Importers said it estimated the bootleg liquor sold on the black market "made up 20% of total Czech alcohol consumption".
Czech police were still looking for the primary source of the poisonings but 23 suspected bootleggers and their distributors had faced charges as of Tuesday.